Reliance eyes stake in Jet Airways, explores bailing out Air India

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Updated: April 20, 2019 2:07:24 PM

Textile-to-telecom giant Reliance Industries is eyeing a stake in the grounded Jet Airways even as it is looking at a possible bailout of the flag carrier Air India reeling under heavy debt.

Reliance may join Etihad Airways, which controls 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways, in its bid at a later date.

Textile-to-telecom giant Reliance Industries is eyeing a stake in the grounded Jet Airways even as it is looking at a possible bailout of the flag carrier Air India reeling under heavy debt, The Indian Express reported citing two sources familiar with the development.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries had not submitted an Expression of Interest (EoI) to the lenders for buying the beleaguered Jet Airways. However, the report said Reliance industries may join Etihad Airways, which controls 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways, in its bid at a later date. UAE’s national airline Etihad had earlier submitted an EoI to the lenders.

Etihad can increase its stake to 49 per cent in Jet Airways under the automatic route as per the existing FDI rules in civil aviation that permit NRIs to buy 100 per cent in carriers. However, Etihad would need permission from the government to increase its stake beyond that.

Reliance Industries declined to comment. “Our company evaluates various opportunities on an ongoing basis. We have made and will continue to make necessary disclosures in compliance with our obligations under Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations 2015 and our agreements with the stock exchanges.” the spokesperson said when contacted by The Indian Express.

Talks are ongoing with respect to funding and the haircut lenders have to take. “This is precisely the reason for the delay in resolution and the consequent grounding of Jet Airways,” the report said citing the source.

The interest in Air India is part of Reliance’s overall plan, said another source requesting not to be named. “It is a boardroom strategy and could be considered at a later stage. Discussions are slowly picking pace since the interested parties are of the view they still have time.”

A preliminary information memorandum was issued by the government in March last year for the beginning of the Air India’s disinvestment process. However, a ministerial panel chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had to defer the strategic plan to sell government’s 76 per cent stake in the airline after failing to get any bids.

The government had then taken the decision to sell the subsidiaries and assets of Air India to cut its debt of Rs 48,781 crore as on March 31, 2017.

Jet Airways had unpaid dues of Rs 8,414 crore to lenders as on March 31, 2018. Five-six EoIs have been received by SBI Capital Markets from private equity companies, foreign carriers and other parties. SBI Capital Markets is currently looking at the entire sale process on behalf of lenders.

Lenders might close the deal by May 10 even as April 30 is the last date for submitting binding bids by parties.

In February, Jet Airways and Air India’s share in the domestic market stood at 11.4 per cent and 12.8 per cent respectively. However, Jet Airways’ business took a significant hit since last year because of reduced operations. Jet Airways and Air India had 16.8 per cent and 13.2 per cent consolidated market share respectively in last February.

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