Jet Airways' may have a saviour after all, and a deep pocketed one at that. The buzz is that the Hinduja Group is finally set to bid for the grounded airline this week, having got the approval of its key stakeholders, including founder Naresh Goyal and Etihad. While the Goyal family owns 51 per cent of the airline, but has pledged 31.2% with lenders, the Gulf carrier is Jet's second largest shareholder, with a 24 per cent stake.
Days after India-born industrialist brothers, Srichand and GP Hinduja, reclaimed the title of Britain's wealthiest with fortunes of 22 billion pounds to their name, Etihad and Jet Airways' lenders approached the Group to invest in the debt-ridden airline. Sources in the know told The Economic Times that the Hinduja Group has engaged investment bankers led by SBI Capital Markets for due diligence, which will commence soon. The conglomerate will gauge the level of support from the government and bankers for a revival plan before making its final move.
Significantly, the Group has been interested in the aviation space for a while now. In 2001, it had bid for Air India, when the government had put up 40% of the carrier for sale in its maiden attempt at privatisation. It was reportedly the only bidder apart from a consortium of Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines to show interest in the Maharajah.
The government had simultaneously put up 26% of Indian Airlines for sale, and the Hindujas had shown interest along with Videocon International. The stake sales were eventually scrapped but the Group had reportedly been disqualified from the bidding process due to the brothers' alleged involvement in the Bofors scam. Before that, it had tied up with Lufthansa AirCargo for services between Sharjah and India from 1997 to 2000. There's another factor that may influence the Hindujas' interest in Jet Airways - the brothers have stuck to a majority stake in the companies they acquire.
However, the Hinduja Group will have to move quickly keeping Jet Airways' eroding value in mind. To begin with, there's the recent top level exodus at the grounded airline, including CEO Vinay Dube, apart from its pilots being poached by other airlines. Sources told the daily that at least 30 Jet Airways' commanders flying long-haul, wide-bodied aircraft have applied to Turkish, Korean Air, Qatar Airways and Rwanda Air for jobs, while IndiGo has already hired over 30 pilots who previously flew the carrier's Boeing 737s.
Furthermore, the civil aviation ministry has decided to carve up Jet Airways' foreign flying rights and hand them over to other domestic carriers on a temporary basis in an attempt to increase capacity to meet peak season traffic and rationalise spiralling airfares. As per the allocation formula worked out by the government, the grounded airline's slots would be allotted to airlines ranked in terms of available seat kilometres, after giving Air India first claim. But the likes of SpiceJet, Vistara and GoAir have alleged that the formula gives market leader IndiGo an unfair monopoly-like advantage. The ministry is currently looking into this matter.
Last but not the least, reviving Jet Airways won't be easy. Experts say that apart from any new investor having to wade through several levels of due diligence in the absence of recent audited financial results, the airline will need up to Rs 20,000 crore over the next three years to fly again. Hence, even if the Hindujas' interest in the airline pans out, the SBI-led consortium of 26 lenders is reportedly looking at a sizeable haircut - initial calculations peg Jet Airways' dues at Rs 12,000 crore.