The Hinduja Group on Tuesday said it was considering a bid for Jet Airways (India) Ltd, which has been grounded for more than a month and is on a desperate hunt for an investor to restart flights.
“Hinduja Group is evaluating the Jet Airways opportunity," a spokesperson for the diversified conglomerate said, confirming media reports about its interest in Jet Airways.
The spokesperson did not elaborate on Hinduja’s plans and whether it would ask lenders to Jet Airways to take a haircut on loans outstanding of nearly ₹8,400 crore.
An investment by the Hindujas is expected to offer a respite to Jet Airways, its employees, as well as lenders and investors. The group is led by billionaire brothers Gopichand and Srichand Hinduja, who are among the UK’s wealthiest people.
The group’s businesses range from automotive and banking to power. In India, it runs well-known brands such as truck maker Ashok Leyland and IndusInd Bank.
The Hinduja Group will start the process of bidding for Jet Airways this week, having obtained the assent of key stakeholders in the carrier including founder Naresh Goyal and strategic investor Etihad Airways, The Economic Times reported on Tuesday.
Lenders to Jet Airways, led by the State Bank of India (SBI), are seeking investors in Jet to recover their dues. The airline’s total liability, including unpaid salaries and vendor dues, is nearly ₹15,000 crore.
Jet Airways suspended flights on 17 April because of a severe cash crunch.
SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said last week that the future course of Jet Airways was expected to emerge in the weeks ahead.
A senior SBI official said on Tuesday that the lenders are likely to meet representatives of the Hinduja Group next week as the announcement of general election results on Thursday and subsequent formation of a new government at the centre would keep the lenders busy this week.
“It’s a bit premature to say anything right now. We are hoping that there will be some news next week. Currently, Hindujas are in talks with Etihad," said the official, requesting anonymity.
Etihad is so far the only party to have placed a bid. The Abu Dhabi-based airline has, however, expressed its interest in having a minority stake in Jet Airways.
Its bid is also non-binding and subject to fulfilment of certain conditions by the lenders. Etihad, which holds a 24%stake in Jet Airways, has agreed to infuse up to ₹1,400 crore into the carrier.
But, Etihad will need to partner other parties to successfully bid for Jet Airways besides addressing its huge liabilities.
“Etihad continues to work directly with key stakeholders in India to help find a solution which would ensure Jet’s return as a viable and competitive Indian airline, as it has been doing consistently for the past 15 months," an Etihad spokesperson said in a statement.
Industry experts say the Hinduja Group, which had tied up with German airline Lufthansa’s air cargo services business in the 1990s before ending the agreement in 2000, can revive operations at Jet Airways if it gains good partners.
“Hinduja Group’s interest in Jet Airways is a very positive indication, which states that there is still value and interest in Jet Airways. Hinduja Group can offer long term investment and will have a long-term plan for a return of investment (RoI) if it’s to acquire Jet," said Mark Martin, chief executive of Martin Consulting Llc.
On Tuesday, shares of Jet Airways surged on expectations of a potential investment by the Hinduja Group.
The shares climbed more than 17% before closing 14.7% higher at ₹150.75 on the BSE, widely outperforming a 0.97% fall in the benchmark Sensex to 38,969.80 points.
Gopika Gopakumar contributed to this story.