Adani group gets into aviation space, wins bids to operate five airports

Adani Enterprises bagged the rights to operate, manage and develop airports at Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangalore.

Adani Enterprises outbid National Infrastructure and Investment Fund (NIIF) for the Ahmedabad airport by quoting Rs 177 PPF as against Rs 146 by NIIF. GMR's bid was at Rs 85.

Despite having a colossal debt of Rs 82,810 crore on its book, the Adani group bid aggressively for privatisation of five airports, winning all of them. The bids were put out by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which at present manages the airports concerned.

Adani Enterprises, the flagship entity of the group, on Monday bagged the rights to operate, manage and develop airports at Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangalore by offering the highest per-passenger fee (PPF). PPF is paid by the developer to state-owned AAI for every domestic and international passenger handled at the airport.

This mode of privatisation is different from the way the Delhi and Mumbai airports were privatised in 2006. Here the GMR and the GVK group, who handle the two airports respectively, have entered into a 74:26 JV with AAI and share a percentage of their gross revenue with the latter. For instance, GMR shares 45.9% and GVK 38.7% of its revenue with AAI.

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According to the concession agreement for privatisation of five airports, the facilities will be handed out to Adani Enterprises for a period of 50 years under the public- private partnership model, once all the formalities get over.

Adani Enterprises outbid National Infrastructure and Investment Fund (NIIF) for the Ahmedabad airport by quoting Rs 177 PPF as against Rs 146 by NIIF. GMR’s bid was at Rs 85.

Similarly, for Lucknow, Adani offered PPF of Rs 171 as compared to AMP Capital’s Rs 139, while GMR was a distant third at Rs 63. In the case of Mangalore airport, Adani’s bid of Rs 115 was 2.5 times the second-highest bid by Cochin International Airport (CIAL) of Rs 45. GMR offered Rs 18 as PPF to the AAI for this airport.

Industry executives pointed out that Adani’s bids reflect its eagerness to enter airports business. The group was recently vying for a stake in the Mumbai airport.

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“We were expecting Adani Group to be aggressive but not to this level. For instance, it is going to be difficult to increase revenue stream from Mangalore as it falls in the catchment area of Kannur airport and Adani (group) has bid more than twice the second-highest bidder. Given their bids, I don’t think they have gone into the economic viability too much, or they are satisfied with not making money for the first 15-20 years,” an executive at a private airport developer said.

Another executive said the company will have to step up non-aeronautical revenues to make the projects viable.“Nearly 25-30% revenue at AAI airports come from non-aeronautical sources. I feel the only way to earn from these airports is to enhance it to around 70% of total revenues,” he explained.

The winning bid for Guwahati couldn’t not be opened due to a stay on the privatisation process for the airport by the Guwahati High Court. Only Adani and GMR group had submitted bids for all the six airports.

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Among private players, the airport sector in the country is dominated by GMR group and GVK who operate Delhi and Mumbai airports respectively. GMR also runs the Hyderbad airport and is also developing a greenfield facility in Mopa (Goa). GVK owns the Navi Mumbai airport which is likely to come up by 2021. Toronto-based Fairfax India Holdings manages the other major airport in Bengaluru.

According to experts, the entry of Adani group will help increase competition amongst developers leading to better passenger facilities.

“Airports sector in India was predominantly dominated by couple of players, an entry of a private player with deep pockets to manage these operational assets augurs well for the sector and in the days ahead we should see good competition amongst the players,” Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, director and practice lead- Transport and Logistics, CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory said.

A total of 10 bidders, including Italy’s Autostrade, Mauritius-based I Investments and Kerala state government, had placed 32 bids for these profit-making airports. These airports have handled 10% of the total passenger traffic of 258 million at Indian airports in FY19 so far.

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The PPF method of privatisation is considered more sustainable and predictable for developers as it is based on transparent criteria of passenger traffic. It also give more freedom to a developer to maximise non-aeronautical revenue sources like retail, food and beverage and car parking as the income would not be shared.

GVK did not participate in this round of airports privatisation.

Adani group said it would scale up the infrastructure at these airports. “The Indian aviation industry is a growing sector with the government’s continuing focus on creating world class airports. We would be aiming to scale up the infrastructure to bring these facilities on par with global standards,” an Adani group spokesperson said.

The ministry of civil aviation is likely to hand over the letter of award to Adani Enterprises on February 28 and the airports will be transferred after the Union cabinet’s clearance, a senior AAI official said.

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