Logistics

Air India divestment: Tata Sons back at the drawing board, may place bid soon

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on October 11, 2019 Published on October 11, 2019

Amit Shah-headed panel likely to hold crucial talks next week on privatising flag carrier

Tata Sons wants a bite of legacy, a dash of its own aviation history and a whole lot of sky under its wings.

After going back and forth for a bit, the salt-to-software conglomerate is finally readying to bid for Air India, India’s flag carrier, and is believed to have started initial discussions internally for placing an offer.

The move comes ahead of a crucial meeting to decide on the airline’s privatisation plans, probably next week. A Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Home Minister Amit Shah, has to take a final call.

Read also - Government committed to disinvestment of Air India: Civil Aviation Minister

“The Tatas were aviation pioneers and, for the group, the country’s aviation history is linked to its own. Further, with the company holding a stake in two carriers already, Air India will, if acquired, propel Tata Sons to the status of an aviation major,” a source close to the development told BusinessLine.

Due diligence

While the plan to bid for Air India is yet to be tabled before the Tata Sons board, the company has already held a couple of discussions on a potential deal. A decision will be taken only after seeing the contours of the final divestment papers, even though the group is looking at bringing in external agencies for due diligence, another source said.

When contacted, a Tata Sons spokesperson declined to comment, terming the bidding plans as speculation.

In India, Air India holds the highest number of slots, routes and real estate, which makes it a prize catch for any bidder. However, the possible deterrent is the airline’s debt, which is among the highest, at ₹58,000 crore, with an annual outgo of more than ₹4,000 crore to service it. The debt-laden airline has been given a ₹30,000-crore bailout package by the government.

JRD Tata’s legacy

JRD Tata, the patriarch of the Tata Group, was the first person to be issued a pilot’s licence in India. In 1932, he set up an aviation department within the Tata Group, which later became Air India. On October 15, 1932, JRD Tata flew a Puss Moth aeroplane from Karachi to Mumbai, marking the first flight of Tata Air Services. Later, in 1953, the government nationalised Air India.

Tata Sons holds a 51 per cent stake in low-cost carrier AirAsia India; the balance stake is held by AirAsia Bhd. AirAsia India commenced operations in June 2014 with Bengaluru as its primary hub.

The Tatas also hold a 51 per cent stake in full-service carrier Vistara, with the remaining stake held by Singapore Airlines.

Published on October 11, 2019
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