By Aditi Shah and Tanvi Mehta
NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) - India's SpiceJet Ltd could benefit from cash-strapped Jet Airways being forced to ground planes, and the low-cost carrier is in talks with lessors to lease some of those aircraft, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Shares of SpiceJet rose as much as 7.2 percent on Wednesday in their biggest percentage gain since Dec. 18 as investors bet the airline could take advantage of Jet Airways' woes.
SpiceJet last week was forced to ground its 12 Boeing Co 737 MAX 8 planes by India's aviation watchdog, following safety concerns after the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157 people.
SpiceJet and Jet Airways are the only carriers in India that operate this type of aircraft and have a total of about 400 on order. The airlines also operate the previous model, the 737-800 among other Boeing planes.
The 737-800 makes up the majority of the Jet Airways fleet, and the airline is now operating only 41 aircraft, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Tuesday.
That means around two-thirds of its fleet is grounded for non-payment to lessors, maintenance or other reasons.
"Lessors are panicking as they haven't been paid and if Jet goes for insolvency, their planes will be stuck in India, so many of them are chasing SpiceJet," said the person quoted earlier.
The person said SpiceJet needs at least twelve 737s to cover the grounded MAX planes and it is negotiating for more. Jet Airways pilots are also queuing up to join the budget airline.
Jet Airways' lessors have offered 50 aircraft to SpiceJet, according to a report by news wire IANS.
SpiceJet and Jet Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jet Airways shares dropped about 7 percent on Wednesday as its financial crisis deepened, with the Indian government calling for an emergency meeting and pilots threatening to go on strike over unpaid salaries.
The government has asked state-run banks to rescue Jet Airways without pushing it into bankruptcy, two people within the administration have told Reuters, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to avert thousands of job losses weeks before a general election.
The 25-year-old airline has defaulted on loans after racking up over $1 billion in debt, and owes money to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors - some of whom have started terminating their lease deals with the carrier.
This has forced Jet Airways to cancel hundreds of flights, leaving passengers stranded and angry. The number of Jet Airways flights has fallen by 80 percent from a year ago, according to the DGCA.
(Additional reporting by Arnab Paul in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Shreejay Sinha)