Ready or not? That is one of the key questions major airlines such as Qantas, Cathay Pacific and American Airlines, might ask when Kingfisher joins the oneworld alliance next month.
British Airways, which has sponsored the Indian carrier's entry into the alliance, has already made up its mind after it completed a review of Kingfisher's readiness, paving the way for the airline to join the alliance.
However, that view would appear to clash sharply with reality, or at least the reality seen by Kingfisher's own regulator.
The airline is once again in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. According to the Economic Times, the country’s Director General of Civil Aviation (DCGA), Bharat Bhushan, stated in a recent report that “a reasonable case exists for withdrawal of Kingfisher’s airline operator permit”, suggesting that the airline’s financial problems are “likely to impinge on safety.”
His suggestion that the airline is unsafe and should effectively stop operating is likely to raise a few eyebrows among the oneworld alliance members.
The DCGA now wants answers from the ailing airline. He wants to know how and when Kingfisher intends to recover from the mess that it is in. A large part of the airline's fleet is grounded. According to the official report, again cited by The Ecomonic Times, Kingfisher "has 64 aircraft in its fleet out of which 20 are grounded due to want of spares, engines, components, etc. There is a shortage of 12 engines for 7 aircraft of A320 family and 16 engines for 9 aircraft of ATR family. Most of spares of ATR aircraft are not available... The airline is doing cannibalisation of parts. (For) example, 619 items have been removed from A320 aircraft VT-ADR until November 17, 2011." The report states further that "a total of 24 pilots have left the airline in past two months. During winter schedule 2011, the airline did not operate 175 daily flights due to non-availability of aircraft."
Kingfisher didn’t draw on specifics as to when its grounded fleet would take to the air again. The airline’s chief executive, Sanjay Aggarwal, said in a statement: “Safety is of paramount importance and our scheduled flights will continue to operate with utmost safety in full compliance with regulatory requirements."
So what natural Plan B might there be for oneworld, or any of the other alliances looking to grow their footprint in India (recall Air India's plan to join the Star Alliance already stalled)? There is no obvious one.
Bhushan’s report found “sickness to be pretty endemic” across the domestic aviation sector. Along with Kingfisher, he attacks Air India Express for its “safety nightmare” and has asked both airlines to provide a specific timeline for restoring full service operations.
Bhushan has also pointed a finger at Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir, citing concerns about crew training and pilot shortages. His report also raised concerns with the rapid growth of IndiGo, which placed an order for 180 A320 family aircraft at last year’s Paris air show.