Air India's Flight Plan announced

The government unveiled the contours of its long-awaited plan to divest Air India. It proposes to sell 76% of Air India along with low-fare subsidiary Air India Express and a 50% stake in AISATS, a ground handling joint venture with Singapore Airport Terminal Services, as a single entity along with most of the national carrier’s debt and prefers an open bidding route for the sale.

The government has also decided to retain a 24% stake in this entity after the divestment, it said in the expression of interest document released. Air India's new owner will take on debt of ₹33,392 crore, which could make it less attractive for potential bidders. The sale of Air India, long a drag on the exchequer, has been attempted several times before, making this one of the key initiatives of the government and sparking political opposition. EoIs have to be submitted by May 14, 2018, and the government intends to complete the sale by the end of 2018.

“As a part of the disinvestment, 76% equity stake in Air India along with Air India’s 100% equity stake in Air India Express and Air India’s 50% equity stake in AISATS is being disinvested by the government of India,” the document said. “Air India has interests in other entities which are in the process of being transferred to a separate SPV (special purpose vehicle) and will not be a part of the proposed transaction.”

These other entities that will be transferred to the SPV include Air India Engineering Services, ground-handling company Air India Air Transport Services, Airline Allied Services (which operates Alliance Air) and Hotel Corporation of India. The SPV will also house the airline’s real estate assets and will be called Air India Asset Holding, which will take on about ₹15,389 crore of the debt. Air India’s total debt was ₹48,781 crore at the end of March 2017.

“For all other entities, EoIs will be floated eventually and bids will be called separately,” a senior aviation ministry official said.

Analysts said the government is looking to generate maximum investor interest but sticking to the timeline may be difficult.

“We expect a significant interest in Air India divestment, as there are not any deal breakers in this except, perhaps, keeping significantly higher-than-expected, non aircraft debt on AI’s books,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in India. “However, meeting the end-December divestment deadline may be challenging.”

Investors would have preferred a 100% divestment, “as we think retaining 24% may potentially dilute interest,” Kaul added.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who’s attempting to unify opposition parties, tweeted her resistance to the plan. “I am sorry to read in the media about the govt inviting expression of interest for selling Air India, the jewel of our nation. We strongly oppose this and want this order to be withdrawn immediately. This govt must not be allowed to sell our country,” she said.

The government said the companies or consortiums bidding for the national carrier will need to have a net worth of ₹5,000 crore.

To facilitate participation by Indian carriers, the government has also allowed those with zero or negative net worth to participate provided they form a consortium with others that will together meet the threshold.

All non-core assets, such as the Air India building in Mumbai and other offices, will become part of the AIAHL.

No comments: