India's Kingfisher airline boss promises restart, expressing confidence to win investment deal

MUMBAI (AFP) - The boss of India's troubled Kingfisher airline has sought to allay fears about jobs in a rare communication to staff, which outlines plans to restart limited operations and win a foreign investment deal.

Kingfisher, whose operations have been grounded since October, lost permission to fly after a deadline to renew its suspended licence with the aviation regulator expired at the start of the new year.

Mr Vijay Mallya's email, sent late Wednesday, expressed hopes for a limited re-start of flights from March this year, requiring funding of 6.5 billion rupees (S$146 million) which would be provided by the airline's parent UB Group.

The airline has submitted a detailed restart plan to the regulator, he said, also reiterating that there were "discussions with multiple investors", including Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, to sell a stake in the airline.

"We remain confident that we will secure a deal," he wrote in the email seen by AFP.

The firm's shares jumped 9.96 per cent to 14.79 rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange on Thursday.

Many staff are owed months of pay. Some of them have threatened to approach a court seeking formal closure of the airline if they are unconvinced about the management's revival plan and its ability to pay pending salaries.

MR Mallya said Kingfisher "was on safe ground" to renew its flying licence with the regulator, which can be applied for within two years after the date of expiry.

"We need to single-mindedly focus on being back in the air and to win back the confidence of our loyal guests," he wrote.

The Centre for Aviation, a Sydney-based consultancy, said in a recent report that Kingfisher had accumulated losses of US$1.9 billion (S$2.3 billion) and debts of US$2.49 billion, including bank debts of US$1.1 billion.

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