India's biggest oil company stops supplying fuel to ailing Jet Airways

The private airline is more than a $1bn in debt and has been forced to ground its fleet

FILE PHOTO: Workers cover the cockpit window of a Jet Airways aircraft parked at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai, India, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
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India's largest commercial oil company said Friday that it had stopped supplying fuel to Jet Airways, deepening the woes of the beleaguered carrier as it battles for survival.

The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) halted supplies to the debt-addled airline at noon on Friday for not meeting payments, an IOC spokesperson told AFP.

"If there is some payment made by Jet, we will resume our refuelling services," they said.

Jet has debts of more than $1 billion and has been forced to ground the majority of its fleet as it struggles to pay aircraft lessors and staff.

Thousands of customers have been stranded in recent weeks after hundreds of flights were cancelled, in some cases with little or no notice.

The Mumbai-based airline, which was until recently India's second-biggest by market share, has also defaulted on several loan payments.

It was not immediately clear how dependent Jet is on the IOC for fuel but analysts said the move could signal the start of the end game for Jet.

"You can be rest assured that everyone else will follow. If that happens Jet Airways is finished," Devesh Agarwal, editor of the Bangalore Aviation website told AFP.

Jet Airways was not immediately available for comment.

Last month creditors injected $218 million of "immediate funding support" into Jet as part of a debt resolution plan.

The move saw a consortium of lenders, led by the State Bank of India, take control of the struggling airline from founder Naresh Goyal, who stepped down as chairman.

The consortium is starting a stake sale process on Saturday, giving prospective bidders until Tuesday to submit expressions of interest for buying a stake.

A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pragmatic pro-business reputation ahead of elections starting on Thursday.

Alarm bells for Jet first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay staff, including pilots. It later reported a loss of $85 million.

In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders including the State Bank of India to bridge a funding gap, but its crisis has deepened.

On Monday it announced that another 15 aircraft had been grounded due to non-payment. Jet is currently operating just 26 planes from its 119-aircraft fleet.

The carrier has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices and a weak rupee, as well as fierce competition from budget rivals.