MUMBAI: A former air passenger service agent, a professor, a former boss of a software company and a member of a supposedly influential political family have emerged as an unlikely set of suitors for Jet Airways (India) Ltd.
This comes after lenders to the cash-strapped carrier announced that they would soon engage with Jet’s unsolicited bidders to ascertain their seriousness and the viability of a rescue act for the carrier which has been grounded for almost a month.
Lenders to Jet Airways plan to reach out to unsolicited bidders after current shareholder Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi declined to raise its stake beyond the current 24% and offered to infuse an additional ₹1,400 crore, which is much lower than the liabilities of the Mumbai-based carrier.
First in the line is Jason Unsworth, a former British airline service agent who assisted passengers at check-in desks, drop desks, and self-service kiosks.
Unsworth has since founded Atmosphere Intercontinental, a yet-to-be-operational premium airline service, which, he claims, will connect parts of Asia.
He is confident that, given a chance, he can revive Jet Airways. “I have a network of the best and most experienced aviation consultants in the industry, as well as having over 10 years-experience working for numerous different airlines. (During) the last four years, I have been leading a startup team of airline professionals, (and) our airline is expected to launch later this winter," Unsworth said in an interview.
Mumbai-based Darwin Group, which is said to run businesses in information technology (IT), pharmaceuticals, power, and shipping, among other sectors, is another unsolicited bidder.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Darwin Group met officials of SBI Capital Markets, which is advising Jet Airways’ lenders, and offered to infuse ₹14,000 crore into the carrier.
This equity infusion can almost erase the entire existing liability of Jet Airways.
However, not much is publicly available about the Darwin group and a study of the group’s recent financials does not reveal much either.
According to its latest available balance sheet, one of the group companies, Darwin Platform Holding Ltd, reported a meagre net profit of ₹34,751 and net sales of ₹17.08 lakh during financial year 2018.
The group’s chairman is Ajay Harinath Singh and its corporate website claims that Singh belongs to a “very influential" political family from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The third suitor in the fray is London-based investment firm Adi Partners LLP, which had placed an initial expression of interest for Jet Airways. The firm was founded in 2012 by Sanjay Viswanathan who, most recently, was the chief executive of Bangalore-based IT firm Sonata Software, which he quit to start Adi Partners.
Not much is publicly known about the transactions undertaken by Adi Partners in the past few years.
“We have strong long-term investors who are renowned for world class governance and impact," said Viswanathan. “We would love to back and support Etihad (Airways) in turning around Jet Airways."
Viswanathan said Adi Partners has hired investment bank Rothschild & Co. for a potential transaction. “We have a strong platform of world class, long-term investors who view this as an infrastructure investment," he added.
The fourth unsolicited bidder is a consortium of minority investors led by a Florida-based college professor Sankaran Raghunathan.
Raghunathan, who claims to represent minority investors of Jet Airways, says that the group plans on raising a corpus of ₹21,500 crore.
“A bridge fund of ₹3,500 crore will be raised on back of commitments from Etihad Airways and NIIF (National Investment and Infrastructure Fund) for up to ₹2,000 crore," said Raghunath.
“We have had talks with representatives of Etihad Airways, who want to retain 24% stake in the airline. We are also discussing the case with NIIF, who haven’t got back to us yet. If NIIF partners us, it can invest up to 10%, though the maximum investment its corpus allows is about 20%," he added.
It could not be immediately ascertained whether Etihad and NIIF—India’s quasi-sovereign wealth fund—have responded favourably.