MUMBAI: The Tata group may revive an attempt to buy Jet Airways (India) Ltd if lenders to the grounded airline fail to find a buyer and are forced to drag the carrier to a bankruptcy court, said two people familiar with the discussions at India’s largest conglomerate.
Last year, the Tata group withdrew from talks to buy the ailing airline once it became clear that Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal was unwilling to cede control and had opened parallel negotiations with existing investor Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi for a potential equity infusion. As part of its initial interest, the Tata group had inspected the books and assets of Jet Airways last November.
As the financial situation of Jet Airways worsened, a State Bank of India-led consortium of lenders forced Goyal and his wife Anita to quit the airline’s board as well as all operational roles.
Despite its early interest in Jet Airways, the Tata group chose to skip an ongoing sale process to find a buyer for the airline, which has received interest from four potential bidders.
“If the ongoing sale process does not succeed, then there is a high possibility that the lenders will take the airline to bankruptcy," the first person cited earlier said on condition of anonymity. “The Tatas have explicitly told Jet’s lenders that they will explore a deal once again only if it is available via the bankruptcy courts."
A Tata group spokesman declined to comment.
Jet Airways flew its last flight on 17 April after lenders declined to provide emergency funds, ending at least temporarily the run of the airline that broke into a state monopoly sector and subsequently became India’s largest airline at one point. The future of the airline and its more than 15,000 employees now hinge on the ongoing sale process that is being run by the company’s lenders.
Mint reported on 19 April that Jet’s potential bidders—Etihad Airways, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, TPG Capital and Indigo Partners—are likely to ask lenders to take a deep haircut on its outstanding loans of over $1 billion, which may prompt the lenders to approach a bankruptcy court.
“The Tata group feels that there is need for a complete overhaul of Jet’s contracts with all third parties, which the group feels could significantly improve the airline’s bottom line and financial performance," said the second person cited earlier. “This, apart from Goyal’s continuity in Jet Airways, were the two key contentious issues then."
At the time the Tata group pulled back from talks with Jet Airways, Gthe group feels could significantly improve the airline’s bottom line and financial performance," said the second person cited earlier. “This, apart from Goyal’s continuity in Jet Airways, were the two key contentious issues then."
At the time the Tata group pulled back from talks with Jet Airways, Goyal wanted a minimum four-year moratorium on vendor contracts, along with a clawback option to raise his stake in the future, which was unacceptable to the Tata group, the person said, requesting anonymity.
“Acquiring Jet Airways through the bankruptcy process would insulate the acquirer from all of the above risk factors and this is the primary reason why there was no bid from the Tatas," said the first person.
Tata Sons Ltd, the holding company of the group, already has a presence in aviation through budget airline AirAsia India Pvt. Ltd and full-service carrier Vistara, a joint venture with Singapore Airlines Ltd.
Acquisition of Jet Airways will boost the group’s market share.
“However, the main driving factor is clearly Jet Airways’ foreign routes that currently account for roughly 60% of the airline’s revenue," said the first person.
Mint reported on 12 April that Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines had infused a combined ₹900 crore into Vistara, bolstering efforts by the carrier to improve its financial health and take delivery of new planes from Airbus SE and Boeing Co. Of the total, Tata Sons pumped in ₹459 crore of fresh equity by subscribing to two rights issues—one in December and the other in March.