India's cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines declared a "partial lock-out" Monday, halting flights for three days following unrest by striking workers, as doubts grew about the carrier's future.
The company, which is desperately in need of capital to keep flying, said a minority group of "recalcitrant employees" had forced a "complete paralysis" of operations.
"It has been decided that flight operations will be suspended for the next three days" until Thursday, said a statement from airline spokesman Prakash Mirpuri.
Kingfisher's engineers went on strike on Friday to protest against not being paid since March, with some pilots and other employees joining the agitation on Monday, the Press Trust of India reported.
Mirpuri cited "a series of protracted and unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault, wrongful restraint and other illegal acts including refraining from attending work" by a small sector of workers.
"The management has been forced to declare a partial lock-out at the airline, effective immediately," his statement said, without specifying which employees would be affected.
The airline, which owes millions of dollars in taxes as well as money to suppliers, lenders, partners and staff, has been forced to drastically cut down its operations -- shutting down international flights completely.
The company was India's second-largest airline until a year ago but now has a market share of just 3.2 percent, the smallest of the country's carriers.
Kingfisher said it aimed to "bring the situation under control particularly with a view to getting flight operations back to normal at the earliest", urging all employees to resume normal duties.
R.K. Khanna, deputy director-general of India's civil aviation regulator, earlier told AFP they had summoned the carrier's chief executive Sanjay Agarwal to discuss the suspension of flights with them on Tuesday.
"The airline will have to explain how long the cancellations will continue," he told AFP.
Kingfisher shares fell by their highest permissible daily limit on Monday, ending down 4.78 percent at 15.35 rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange, following the news.
Television network NDTV reported a meeting between the airline's chief executive and striking engineers ended in a stalemate late on Monday with the employees being told the company could not pay even a month's salary to them.
On Sunday night, passengers landing in big cities such as Delhi or Mumbai were stuck inside their aircraft as Kingfisher's engineers refused to work and did not put safety wedges on aircraft tyres after landing, media reports said.
In other cases passengers could not disembark some planes as step ladders were not attached.
Owner Vijay Mallya, a billionaire liquor baron, last week said he was in talks with foreign airlines to sell a stake in the firm after the government relaxed foreign investment rules.
Also last week, local banks -- which own a quarter of Kingfisher -- rejected a request from the company for another loan.
Kingfisher has never made a profit since its creation in 2005 and is now at least $1.3 billion in debt. It has been hard hit by over-rapid expansion, intense competition and high fuel prices.