Indigo expresses interest in Air India divestment

RSTV Bureau

Indigo flightA day after the Cabinet cleared disinvestment of debt-ridden national airline Air India, low cost carrier Indigo expressed interest in taking over Air India’s international operations.

On Thursday, Indigo wrote to the civil aviation ministry expressing its interest in the matter.

“IndiGo has written a letter with an unsolicited expression of interest (EOI) in the divestment procedure of Air India,” Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said.

IndiGo said in a letter it would be interested in buying out the International operations of Air India and its low-cost wing, Air India Express. And if that was not possible, it would like to buy the entire Air India flight operations, including domestic, IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh said in the letter written to Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju.

“Many other private players, both domestic and international, have approached us. But those were informal talks. IndiGo’s was the only formal EOI,” said Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha at a media briefing.

In a press conference held on Wednesday evening, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that the in-principal approval for the divestment of Air India had been taken. But the minister did not reveal if it will be an outright sale or partial divestment.

“The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval to fourth tranche recommendations of NITI Aayog on strategic disinvestment of CPSE (strategic disinvestment of Air India and five of its subsidiaries) based on the recommendations of Core Group of Secretaries on Disinvestment (CGD),” Jaitley had said.

The airline, which was afloat thanks to a Rs 30,231 crore nine-year bailout programme approved in 2012, has about Rs 52,000 crore of debt. It is hampered by debt and servicing costs, which largely eroded its recovery.

Air India, which made an operating profit of about Rs 100 crore in 2015-16 on back of drop in oil prices, but posted a net loss of Rs 3,840 crore, has seen its market share shrink to 12.9 per cent from 35 per cent a decade back.

“All the aspect would be decided by the group (Group of Ministers). The Prime Minister would constitute the group…obviously the last word is of the Cabinet,” he said.

The group on Air India-specific Alternative Mechanism headed by the finance minister will include Civil Aviation Minister and other concerned ministers. The group will guide the process on strategic disinvestment from time to time and decide treatment of unsustainable debt of Air India, hiving off of certain assets to a shell company and de-merger and strategic disinvestment of three profit-making subsidiaries. The group will also decide on the quantum of disinvestment in Air India.

(With inputs from PTI)