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Kingfisher planes remain grounded

India's Kingfisher Airlines has said it will not fly any planes for another week unless it can convince pilots and engineers who have not been paid for months to return to work.

Chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal has been criss-crossing the country to meet disgruntled employees but has not reached a deal, forcing the airline to prolong the flights shut-down that was meant to end on Friday.

"We regret that the illegal strike has still not been withdrawn and normality has not been restored in the company, thereby continuing to cripple and paralyse the working of the entire airline," spokesman Prakash Mirpuri said in a statement.

Workers are protesting against months of unpaid wages. India's airline regulator is worried about safety standards because engineers are on strike and cannot certify that the planes are safe to fly.

"What we need is concrete plans from Kingfisher," civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said. "How will they maintain their schedule and how will they make sure their planes are safe to fly?"

Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant drinks baron who founded Kingfisher, built the airline in the image of Pan Am circa 1960, with stewardesses in short skirts and a reputation for good food and good service. But Mr Mallya never managed to translate that elegance into profit, burdened by problems such as high tax and fuel costs in India's hyper-competitive market, as well as bad decisions.

Analysts frowned on the company's 2008 acquisition of budget carrier Air Deccan - Mr Mallya himself dumped his low-cost business model in 2011 - and its ill-timed move into international service, just as the global economy tanked. The company has not made a profit since it was founded in 2005, according to FactSet, a financial information provider.

Intensifying doubt that the cash-strapped carrier will be able to crawl out from its pile of debt drove the stock down 17.8% for the week.

The airline's bad news deepened, with a spate of front-page newspaper articles about the suicide of a Kingfisher employee's wife. Before hanging herself, the woman reportedly left a note saying her husband had not been paid for five months and she could no longer cope with the financial stress.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), an airline industry research group, called on Kingfisher to shut down voluntarily in order to "reorganise and restructure". CAPA also lambasted regulators for waiting for employees to ground the carrier instead of taking swift action to deal with safety concerns arising from angry staffs who have not been paid in as long as seven months.

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