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Air India sale to conclude by September as financial bids process starts

April 14, 2021

The protracted process of selling India’s loss-making national carrier Air India is expected to conclude by September, with the government initiating the process for inviting financial bids from those who qualified from the first round of preliminary bids.

The Indian government is selling its entire 100 per cent stake in Air India that has been in heavy losses ever since its merger with domestic operator Indian Airlines in 2007.

The stake sale process got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the government had extended five times the deadline to submit preliminary bids for the national carrier.

It was learnt that after analysing the preliminary bids, eligible bidders were given access to the Virtual Data Room (VDR) of Air India, following which investors' queries were answered.

The transaction has now moved to the financial bids stage with a deal expected to be concluded by September.

The salt-to-software conglomerate Tata group’s holding company Tata Sons his among those who had submitted an expression of interest. The Mumbai-based $113-billion Tata group is expected to bid through Air Asia India. For the Tata group, which also owns the majority shares of full-service Vistara (in partnership with Singapore Airlines) and low-cost AirAsia India, the acquisition of Air India marks the homecoming of an iconic brand that was invented by the legendary JRD Tata in 1932.

Air India, which started as a mail carrier in 1932, will give a successful bidder control of 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international landing and parking slots at domestic airports, as well as 900 slots at airports overseas.

Besides, the bidder would get 100 per cent of the low-cost arm Air India Express and 50 per cent of AISATS, which provides cargo and ground handling services at major

According to reliable reports, government had sweetened the deal by giving freedom to potential suitors to decide how much of the airline's debt they want to take on as part of the transaction. Previously, the bidders were required to take over the entire Rs600.74 billion debt.

Last month, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the government will keep Air India running till it gets divested and there is no choice but to either 'privatise or close' the debt-laden airline.

'We are looking at another timeline now, what is called a data room for prospective bidders to look at... that is opened up, 64 days for the financial bids to come in. After that it is the question of taking a decision and handing over the airline,' Puri had said.

'...There is no choice, we either privatise or we close the airline. We run a loss of Rs200 million every day despite Air India making money now. Because the mismanagement has resulted in a cumulative debt of Rs600 billion,' he had said.