Indian passengers wait by the Jet Airways ticketing counter at Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on April 18, 2019, after the airline grounded its fleet. – Jet Airways shares plunged more than 32 percent on April 18, hours after the Indian carrier’s final flight landed following a decision to ground its entire fleet. – AFP

MUMBAI: India’s SpiceJet Ltd said it will prioritize hiring employees of Jet Airways Ltd who are losing their jobs after the crisis-hit Indian airline halted all flight operations indefinitely this week. “We have already provided jobs to more than 100 pilots, more than 200 cabin crew and more than 200 technical and airport staff,” said Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director of SpiceJet. “We will do more.” Hundreds of Jet Airways employees protested in Delhi and Mumbai on Thursday to push its management for answers about their future after the airline shut down all flight operations on Wednesday having failed to secure new funding from its lenders.

Jet Airways has lost many employees as the crisis unfolded. About 400 pilots have moved to other airlines, leaving Jet with about 1,300 pilots, a senior Jet pilot told Reuters. About 40 engineers have also left, a senior engineer said. Lenders, led by State Bank Of India, say they are hopeful of a successful bidding process for Jet. The carrier is saddled with about $1.2 billion in debt.

Low cost carrier SpiceJet, which pledged to add 27 planes over the next two weeks to help to fill in the slots left vacant by Jet’s grounding, said that it is making all possible efforts to minimize passenger inconvenience. The government plans to form a committee to temporarily allocate takeoff and landing slots left vacant by the grounding of Jet’s flights, a senior official said on Thursday. Local airlines including InterGlobe Aviation Ltd and state-run Air India are likely to benefit.

Air India on Thursday offered special fares to passengers stranded in international routes due to Jet’s grounding. The Indian government plans to form a committee to temporarily allocate takeoff and landing slots left vacant by the grounding of Jet Airways flights, a senior official said, a day after the indebted carrier was forced to stop operations.

The vacant slots will be allocated to other airlines, said Pradeep Singh Kharola, India’s aviation secretary, at a press conference in New Delhi. At least 280 slots were vacant in Mumbai and 160 in Delhi, he said, after Jet Airways – once India’s largest private carrier – ended all operations failing to secure further loans from lenders.

Airlines are in touch with lenders to lease grounded Jet Airways planes, which are likely to be taken up by local airlines including state-run Air India, which is also in talks with lenders, Kharola said.

A bidding process is underway for a stake of up to 75 percent in Jet Airways, which is saddled with roughly $1.2 billion of bank debt. Kharola said there is “keen interest” from bidders. Top bosses of airlines have assured they will keep fares at reasonable levels, he added. Jet Airways shares plunged more than 32 percent on Thursday, hours after the Indian carrier’s final flight landed following a decision to ground its entire fleet.

Jet’s stock fell more than 32 percent to 162.15 rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange Thursday. It was worth more than four times that a year ago. The lenders that control the airline said Thursday they were focusing on finding a buyer for Jet, which was until recently India’s second-biggest carrier by market share. – Agencies