Tata Sons’ chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran has officially confirmed that the group is considering buying the beleaguered state-run carrier Air India. Natarajan Chandrasekaran said the group will “definitely look at it” once there are enough details. In an interview to CNBC-TV18, the Natarajan Chandrasekaran said that the group is planning to expand its aviation business and will take the decision after looking at every aspect of the business — debt, liabilities, real estate et al. “We will definitely look at it,” the company’s chairman said, adding that the group is waiting for the government to finalise the disinvestment process.
“We still don’t have all the details. Every business proposal will be very seriously looked at and we will look at that (Air India). Definitely! But currently, we don’t have the data… there are so many different groups within Air India and then there is real estate, there is debt, there are liabilities and we got to look at all of that it, but we will definitely look at it.” Natarajan Chandrasekaran said.
Earlier, it was reported that Natarajan Chandrasekaran had informal talks with the government, expressing preliminary interest in buying a controlling stake in Air India with a 51% equity holding. This could be a homecoming for Air India, whose original owner was the Tata Group itself before the airline was nationalised in 1953. “We have a team which can definitely spend the time as soon as the details are out,” Natarajan Chandrasekaran said.
“We need to look at aviation as a whole. We are subscale. Any decision that we take—Air India or otherwise—we have to have a story because we can’t be operating with 15 aircraft or 20 aircraft. I feel scale is important….” he added.
Tata Sons currently has two aviation joint venture in India with Singapore Airlines and AirAsia Berhad. The company’s chairman also said that they have discussed buying Air India with its partner Singapore Airlines.
The government, meanwhile, took another step in the disinvestment process and invited applications from investment bankers, law firms and other entities to advise on the strategic stake sale of the flag carrier. The government has decided on strategic disinvestment of loss-making Air India by early 2018, which is guzzling up taxpayers’ money ridden with inefficiencies and mismanagement. The national carrier, under intense competition from more efficient and often-cheaper private airlines, is reeling under a debt of over Rs 52,000 crore. So far, IndiGo and Bird Group have expressed interest in buying various operations of the troubled national carrier.
Air India, under intense competition from leaner, more efficient and often-cheaper private airlines, is reeling under a debt of about Rs 50,000 crore, with about Rs 28,000 crore in working capital debt, and about Rs 4,000 crore in interest burden alone. It has not turned a profit in 10 years, since at least the year 2007. The carrier has received bailout packages worth about Rs 24,000 crore out of a total Rs 30,000 crore approved, but has failed to revive its fortunes amid private airlines continuously gaining market share.
Back to the hangar
Notably, Air India was launched as Tata Airline back in the year 1932 by the erstwhile Tata Group Chairman JRD Tata, with a maiden flight between Mumbai and Karachi. Later in 1948, post-independence, it was incorporated as Air India International — a joint venture corporation between the government and the private sector to start overseas services. Five years later, the government decided to nationalise all aviation business in the country.