The debt-ridden flag carrier of India is on the selling block once more. According to publicly available tender issued by the airline itself, Air India is already looking for a law firm to carry out legal due diligence “for the proposed sale of Air India, Air India Express and Air India SATS Airport Services”. Another tender also indicates that the Indian government is looking to offload 100% of the Air India Air Transport Services (a ground handling subsidiary) shares.
The government is likely to use the slightly improved financial situation of the carrier, possibly making Air India a much more attractive asset than it was a year ago when the Indian officials announced the intention to sell 76% of Air India shares. Reports indicate that the airline incurred a $649 million (RS46 billion) operating loss in FY18-19, an improvement compared to FY17-18 loss of $747 million (RS53 billion). This time, however, the government is willing to withdraw from the carrier completely, offloading its 100% Air India stake. To make the deal even more attractive for a potential investor, the government will move around $4 billion (RS294 billion) of Air India’s debt onto a holding company.
Expression of Interest (EOI) bids is expected to be floated “this month-end or next month”, meaning the Indian Government expects to start the sale procedures in November 2019, reports The Economic Times, citing sources close to the matter. Air India’s issued tender for a legal firm set November 8, 2019, as the last day to submit bids for the opportunity to work on the legal due diligence processes.
Yet the privatization might be an uphill struggle – including the massive debt and continuous losses, the Indian laws prohibit foreign-registered airline to own a majority stake in an Indian carrier – something that likely prevented Etihad investing further into Jet Airways, as it looked for a local partner to resurrect the fallen once-biggest private airline in the South Asian country.
But the potential sale is already causing internal tensions, as Air India’s unions are expressing their skepticism about whether this is the right move for the sake of the aviation industry in the country.