GoAir for sale! Wadias looking to offload stake in airline business

The Wadia Group, which owns budget carrier GoAir, is looking for buyers for its 13-year-old airline.

The Wadia Group, which owns budget carrier GoAir, is looking for buyers for its 13-year-old airline, multiple sources aware of the development told FE. It is understood that the promoters have appointed a merchant bank in the UK to gauge buyers’ interest in the airline and be the transaction adviser for the deal if it materialises, according to sources in direct know of the development.

Responding to a FE query, a GoAir spokesperson said, “As a policy, we do not comment on market speculation and baseless rumors.” It is not for the first time that the Wadias are looking for a buyer for their airline. “They are looking to exit the aviation business and they have been wanting to do so for a long time,” an industry source aware of the development said. It is believed that before the Tatas launched their joint venture budget airline, AirAsia India, with Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes that started operations in 2014, the Wadias wanted to align their airline business with the Tatas and were in discussions to offload stake in GoAir.

The talks did not materialise and the Tatas decided to go with brand AirAsia to fly in India.

The Wadias again initiated talks to exit the airline business in 2017, which failed due to issues related to valuation.

The decision to look for a buyer for GoAir at this point of time is prompted by a tough aviation market and inability of GoAir to expand its market share and network. This got expedited, as August onwards the fuel costs started rising, while the rupee weakened against the dollar. The promoters have always maintained that GoAir is a profitable, debt-free company; it posted a profit after tax of Rs 200 crore in FY17. The numbers for FY18 have not been declared so far by the company, but according to sources, GoAir has suffered huge losses, something which is in line with other aviation companies.

“GoAir is not truly profitable. Market dynamics have significantly changed and it is getting increasingly difficult for GoAir, as they do not have a robust network and no formidable market share. It has also grown at a very small pace and is a good consolidation target,” said an industry expert, adding that GoAir is stuck with a huge aircraft order (120 Airbus A320neos) but has not expanded its network either in domestic or international markets. As per sources, it is understood that it is re-negotiating the aircraft order contract with Airbus.

The airline flies to 23 destinations with 43 aircraft and has 8.9% market share of the Indian skies. It launched its international operations in October with Phuket and Male, though it was eligible to fly international in 2016 as it took delivery of its 20th aircraft, a mandatory number of aircraft before airlines are allowed to fly overseas. It has added just one domestic destination to its network — Hyderabad — in 2017.

Aviation experts say it is the slots that GoAir has at premium airports like Mumbai and Delhi that hold value for the buyers.

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