Jet Airways says taking tough measures after record loss

NEW DELHI Tue May 27, 2014 9:57pm IST

A Jet Airways passenger plane takes off from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

A Jet Airways passenger plane takes off from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad February 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Jet Airways (India) Ltd, part-owned by Abu Dhabi's Etihad, said on Tuesday it would be taking "tough" measures to reshape the airline and return to profitability, after reporting a record quarterly loss.

Airlines in India have been weighed down by one of the most expensive jet fuel prices in the region, while slower economic expansion has curbed the growth in passengers.

Jet, the No. 2 Indian carrier by domestic market share, said on Tuesday that standalone net loss was 21.54 billion rupees for its fiscal fourth-quarter to end-March, compared with a loss of 4.96 billion rupees a year earlier, as costs jumped and also due to an impairment charge.

The latest quarterly loss was Jet's fifth in a row.

Jet said it had approved details of a three-year business plan on Tuesday as it strives to return to profitability. The carrier, in which Etihad bought a 24 percent stake last year, is writing down "overvalued" non-cash assets to clean up its balance sheet, it said.

After a cost study by external advisors, the carrier has set up a task force to implement a "major restructuring" of its business, it said, without giving details. The airline said it would reconfigure its Boeing fleet and optimise seat count on wide-body planes, without elaborating.

"We need to take stringent measures," Jet Chairman Naresh Goyal said in a statement. "There can be no short-term solutions. The changes required will take time to implement."

Jet, which has been without a full-time chief executive since January, named Cramer Ball as its new CEO, pending regulatory approvals. Ball, an Australian national, previously worked as the CEO of Air Seychelles, according to Jet.

COMPETITION

Competition is set to increase in India's six-player market as two new airlines - separate joint ventures, one involving AirAsia Bhd and the other Singapore Airlines - are gearing up to start operations this year. All Indian airlines except the market leader IndiGo have been losing money.

Jet, which has not reported an annual profit since 2007, said consolidated net loss for the fiscal year to March was 41.3 billion rupees, a more than five-fold jump from 7.8 billion rupees net loss reported for the previous fiscal year.

For the fourth quarter, Jet's total expenses jumped about 29 percent from a year earlier to 59.32 billion rupees on a standalone basis, while total income grew 16 percent to 45.66 billion rupees.

Jet said it took a charge of 7 billion rupees on its investment in unit Jetlite (India) Ltd, which is also losing money and had a negative net worth as of end-March.

Etihad's investment in Jet was the first of its kind by a foreign airline after India allowed foreign carriers to buy a stake in local airlines. Etihad CEO James Hogan and CFO James Rigney attended the Jet board meeting on Tuesday, Jet said.

Etihad is a "a long-term strategic investor and committed to supporting Jet Airways", Hogan said in the statement.

Shares in Jet fell 3.3 percent ahead of the results in a Mumbai market that closed 0.6 percent lower.

(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu, Mark Heinrich and Pravin Char)

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