Air India stake sale: Tata Group, SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh may submit offers today

The Centre expects to receive financial bids from at least two entities for Air India, a big boost to the government’s plan to privatise the ailing national carrier. It is important to note that Air India’s divestment process has been delayed by a few months because of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and also due to long-drawn processes such as physical inspection of assets by potential buyers.

In 2018, the government’s attempt to offload a 76 per cent stake in the national air carrier had come a cropper. However, this time the government has sweetened the terms and conditions for the sale of state-owned carrier in an earnest attempt to ensure that a sale takes place. The Centre wants to complete the Air India sale by December this year.

The Tata Group, through a holding company, is among the front-runners to acquire Air India. Budget airline SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh is also expected to pitch for the airline. Singh is making the bid in his personal capacity. “We are very hopeful that Air India will get a new owner this time,” a person familiar with the development told ET on the conditions of anonymity.

The government is all set to sell its 100 per cent stake in the national carrier along with two other subsidiaries: low-cost carrier Air India Express and a 50 per cent stake in ground handling company AISATS. The government’s plan to hold a 26 per cent stake in the 88-year-old airline after divestment had been seen as one of the major hurdles behind the private sector not showing any interest in the national carrier two years ago.

The financial daily quoted an industry insider, who did not want to be identified, as saying, “The biggest worry for the private sector last time was a government staying a partner in the airline post divestment with a government-appointed board member. Now that is gone, and that is a big plus this time.”

Recently, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) notified the transfer of Air India’s capital assets to a holding company and offered tax relief to further ease the privatisation process.

The bidder will be asked to bear Rs 23,000 crore of Air India’s debt, and the remaining debt of about Rs 22,000 crore would be allocated to government-owned Air India Assets Holding Ltd (AIAHL), a separate company that will house all the other assets of the Air India group. The idea is to monetise these assets to help clear Air India’s dues that the Centre takes on before transferring the airline’s ownership to the new buyers.


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