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MENAFN - AFP - 25/10/2012

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(MENAFN - AFP) Staff at India's Kingfisher airline, whose fleet has been grounded since October 1, have agreed to end their strike over unpaid wages and return to work, the company's chief executive said on Thursday.

Kingfisher planes will however be unable to return to the skies until it has persuaded Indian aviation regulators to reinstate its flying licence, which was suspended last week.

"All employees have agreed to resume duty right now. They are on duty as we speak," chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal told reporters.

"We are all in this together and looking forward to getting the airline going in the next few weeks."

The truce with employees came before the start of the three-day Formula One Grand Prix near New Delhi, in which Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya's co-owned Force India Formula One team will compete.

"I sincerely thank all (staff) for their faith and continuing commitment," Mallya said on Twitter.

The striking staff -- who include pilots, engineers and ground staff -- agreed to the management's new offer under which they would receive at least four months' worth of unpaid salaries by Christmas.

Most staff, totalling at least 4,000, had not been paid for more than six months, triggering the strike at the start of this month.

Kingfisher has been one of India's worst-hit airlines in an industry plagued by high jet fuel prices, fierce competition, price wars and shabby airport infrastructure.

The carrier was India's second-largest airline until a year ago but now it has a market share of just 3.5 percent, the smallest of the country's carriers.

"The management has shown magnanimity to resolve the issue," Vikrant Patkar, a Kingfisher pilot who led the employees' protest, told AFP.

"We shall defend (Kingfisher), whatever the cost may be. We will fight with other competitors."

But Mallya is desperately seeking a foreign buyer to save his airline from complete collapse, and many analysts are doubtful any rescue is possible.

India's aviation minister Ajit Singh said Monday it would be "very difficult" for the ailing carrier to resume operations.

One pilot, declining to be named said: "We have got the first of our pending salaries, as promised. We just hope that there are no more stumbling blocks."

Kingfisher, which owes billions of dollars in taxes, airport fees and salaries, had its licence suspended on Saturday until it could present a "viable" revival plan.

Airline spokesman Prakash Mirpuri said it would soon deliver a new business plan to the regulators.

Kingfisher shares rose 4.81 percent to 10.9 rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange, reacting to the end of the strike.

A report by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a Sydney-based consultancy, has said the airline's promoters need to raise at least 600 million to stay in operation.

Kingfisher's debts total 2.49 billion including bank debts of 1.1 billion, and it had accumulated losses of 1.9 billion, CAPA said.


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