Apart from Tata Sons, SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh, in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority, and Ankur Bhatia, promoter of Delhi-based Bird group, has also emerged as bidders for the loss-making Air India. Both parties have placed bids in their capacities but they both could hold a majority stake in the airline if they get it.
Singh and the two investors have bid for a 100 per cent stake in Air India, sources in the know told The Economic Times. However, Singh and the other two promoters are yet to come up with an official statement on the possible tie-up and placing of bids. They had submitted EoIs (Expressions of Interest) in December, according to the report.
Singh, who's credited for turning around SpiceJet, had co-founded the airline in 2005 before selling it to Wilbur Ross, who then further sold it to Kalanithi Maran in 2010. Singh gained control of the airline again in 2015. Bhatia is the executive director at Bird group, which has business interests in travel technology, aviation services, hospitality, retail, and education.
The central government is reportedly planning to invite financial bids for the privatisation of Air India by the end of this month. The plan is to wrap up the disinvestment process in the second half of the current calendar year.
The shortlisted entities might be given time till June or early July this year to furnish their financial bids. After the bids are locked, the sale of Air India will take another 3-4 months to finalise after evaluation of the financial bids.
Earlier this month, the consortium of Air India employees was disqualified from the disinvestment process. The consortium was led by Air India Commercial Director Meenakshi Malik, who informed the employees of the development in a letter. That leaves Tata group, and SpiceJet and two other business groups as likely contenders for Air India.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her 2021 Budget speech, had said the privatisation of Air India would be completed in 2021-22. The disinvestment is crucial to meet the Centre's Rs 1.2 lakh crore disinvestment target for the next financial year. Besides selling its 100 per cent stake in Air India and Air India Express, the government is also looking to offload its 50 per cent share in Air India Airport Services.
Air India presently has a fleet of 121 aircraft, out of which 65 are owned, while its subsidiary Air India Express has 25 Boeing 737, of which 10 are owned. It may record around Rs 10,000 crore financial loss this fiscal year. The airline's total debt has reduced to Rs 23,000 crore as the Centre shifted its Rs 30,000 crore working capital debt to a special purpose vehicle, AI Asset Holdings Ltd.