Home / Companies / News /  Tata group, SpiceJet in fray as Air India sale enters final lap

NEW DELHI : Tata Sons Ltd and the promoter of budget airline SpiceJet Ltd are among at least two suitors for Air India Ltd as the long-drawn sale of the loss-making national carrier reached the final stage.

Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary of the finance ministry’s Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (Dipam), said the government received financial bids for Air India ahead of the deadline on Wednesday.

“Financial bids for Air India disinvestment have been received by transaction adviser (Ernst & Young LLP India). The process now moves to the concluding stage," Pandey said in a Twitter post.

He did not identify the bidders.

The bids will be opened “after reserve value finalization and security clearance", a senior finance ministry official said, on condition of anonymity. The official did not give a time frame.

A spokesperson for Tata Sons, which controls the diversified Tata group, said it had submitted a financial bid for Air India. The spokesperson did not provide further details.

SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh has also submitted a bid, said a person close to the entrepreneur.

Media reports said earlier that Singh approached the State Bank of India (SBI) to garner a bank guarantee for his bid. Mint could not independently confirm this.

Singh and a spokesperson for SpiceJet did not respond to queries. A spokesperson for SBI did not respond to text messages.

Air India, unprofitable since a merger with the erstwhile state-run Indian Airlines in 2007-08, has accumulated losses of as much as 70,820 crore till 31 March 2020—the latest available data.

The government aims to complete the divestment of its entire stake in Air India before the end of the fiscal through March after failing to find any buyer for a 76% stake in Air India in 2018. The plan is to sell a 100% stake in the airline and its low-cost unit Air India Express as well as a 50% stake in ground handling company Air India SATS Airport Services Pvt. Ltd (AISATS).

The successful privatization of Air India is crucial for the government to attain its ambitious disinvestment target of 1.75 trillion for this fiscal. It has so far garnered 8,369 crore and with big-ticket disinvestments such as the privatization of Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and the mega initial share sale of Life Insurance Corp. of India lined up, the government is hopeful of meeting its target.

Mint last week reported, citing a finance ministry statement, that as a sweetener, the winning bidder for Air India could carry forward losses of the erstwhile state-owned airline and claim up to 30% tax rebate annually.

Necessary legislative amendments for the clarification is set to be proposed in “due course of time", according to the ministry.

While the government remains committed to Air India’s privatization, the carrier’s liabilities are expected to cross $20 billion by 2024-25, which includes losses in FY21 and FY22 due to the pandemic, aviation consultant Capa India said in its India Aviation Outlook FY22.

“The government’s intention to exit Air India is the right strategy and must be pursued aggressively. It would be unfortunate if the government has to continue to support the carrier when there are so many high priority health and social infrastructure projects post-covid," Capa India said.

Asit Ranjan Mishra contributed to the story.

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