India's Kingfisher halts flights for 3 days

MUMBAI, India -- Kingfisher Airlines has grounded flights for at least three days after a violent strike over unpaid wages at the cash-strapped Indian carrier.

The company said late Monday that it was forced to declare a lockout after "unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault" by disgruntled employees who have been intimidating their colleagues.

Flights will be halted at least through Thursday.

Chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal met with India's airline regulator Tuesday. After the meeting, he told reporters that Kingfisher would decide on Thursday whether to resume flights and said the airline planned to pay staff "in the next few days."

Aggarwal said half of Kingfisher's employees received their salary for March 2012, though he forfeited his. He did not comment on staff payments since then.

"I get the last check," he said.

The disruption is likely to hamper the money-losing carrier's efforts to attract much-needed new investment. Its share price plunged 4.8 percent Monday, bringing its slide for the year so far to 27 percent.

India's aviation minister, Ajit Singh, has warned Kingfisher over safety compliance since its engineers are on strike and said the company must keep at least five aircraft in its fleet flying in order to maintain its license, the Press Trust of India reported.

Kingfisher spokesman Prakash Mirpuri defended the airline's safety record and said it is not in danger of losing its license to operate.

"There is no threat to our operating license," he said by email Tuesday. "Our lock out follows violence by a section of employees. We have more than sufficient pilots and engineers to operate safely. However, they are being prevented from coming to work and hence the action."

Kingfisher is operating 12 aircraft in its fleet, Mirpuri said. That's down from 66 in March 2011, according to Kingfisher's annual report.

Kingfisher posted a loss of 6.5 billion rupees ($124.0 million) in the quarter ending June. Its total debt as of March 2012 was 87.3 billion rupees ($1.7 billion), according to FactSet, a financial information provider.