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Air India a great asset, buyer will use an iconic brand: Hardeep Puri

New Delhi, Jan 27, 2020-

Terming sale-bound Air India and two of its subsidiaries as great assets, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday said that the buyer of the airline would be using the iconic brands.

The Minister said that due to its accumulated debt of about Rs 60,000 crore, Air India’s financial position could be described as very fragile but a private company can turn it around and make profitable.

After failing to attract a single bid in 2018, the government has this time sweetened the offer. It has proposed to take off a major chunk of the airline’s debt and liabilities, besides being ready to divest its entire stake in Air India, and its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express.

The ground-handling joint venture AISATS in which the flag carrier holds 50 per cent stake is also on the block.

The liabilities to be retained in Air India would be equal to certain current and non-current assets. Considering the combined figures as on March 31, 2019, the liabilities retained would be around Rs 8,771.5 crore.

The remaining debt and liabilities of Air India and Air India Express will be allotted to special purpose vehicle Air India Assets Holdings Ltd (AIAHL).

The contingent liabilities related to statutory and government dues will be indemnified by the government.

The Aviation Minister said that debt on the books of Air India at the time of transaction would be frozen at Rs 23,286.5 crore which is equivalent to the written-down value of the combined assets of Air India and Air India Express.

All land and building assets including paintings, arts and artefacts are not part of the transaction. However, certain land and buildings at Delhi, Mumbai airports and corporate offices which are core assets for running the airline will be given to the new investors on right-to-use basis for a limited period, the Minister said.

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The government has also committed to pay certain employee-related dues.

The bidding structure on forming the consortium has been eased compared to last time. The financial capability of prospective investors has also been made more attractive by lowering the networth criteria to Rs 3,500 crore and networth qualification of investor based on the strength of its affiliates.

Puri said that government had learnt valuable lessons after its first bid to sell Air India failed.

“We analysed the critical areas to make the current disinvestment bid more attractive to the prospective interested bidders,” he said.

The Modi government’s move to sell Air India and its subsidiaries had failed in 2018 as not a single private party evinced interest. While it had earlier offered 76 per cent stake in the airline along with management control, the government has offered to sell its entire stake in the airline this time.

As the government proposed to hold 24 per cent stake in the company and corresponding rights, many prospective buyers had apprehensions about interference and hence, stayed away from the bid process. High amount of debt and adverse macro environment such as high fuel prices were cited as major reasons for the no-show.

Global consultancy EY is the transaction advisor for the strategic disinvestment of Air India.

As per preliminary information memorandum (PIM) inviting the EoI, Air India is one of the most extensive flight service providers in India with network coverage of 98 destinations (56 domestic destinations with around 2,712 departures per week and 42 international destinations with around 450 departures per week).

The airline offers 75 additional destinations through its secondary network of code share operations covered under 25 code share agreements with foreign carriers.

The government on Monday invited expression of interest (EoI) from prospective buyers of Air India and two of its subsidiaries.  (Agency)

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