Tata Sons makes a winning bid for Air India for $2.4 billion.

Tata Sons will take charge of Air India after a winning bid of $2.4 billion, including equity and debt, the government said on Friday, marking the end of years of struggle to privatize the financially troubled airline.

Salt-to-software conglomerate Tatas have won the bid to acquire debt-laden state-run Air India offering Rs18,000 crore for acquiring 100 percent shareholding, a senior government official said on Friday.

An SPV of Tata Sons — the holding company of conglomerate — has emerged as a successful bidder, Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary to the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), the government department responsible for privatization, said.

Tata Sons beat SpiceJet promoter to bag Air India. The DIPAM secretary said Tatas’ bid of Rs18,000 crore comprises taking over 15,300 crores of debt and paying the rest in cash.

Tata Sons’ winning bid for Air India higher than the reserve price of Rs12,906 crore set by the government, the official added. The transaction is expected to close by the end of December 2021, said Pandey. Both bidders had quoted above the reserve price, he said.

He said a group of ministers comprising Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has cleared the winning bid for Air India on Oct. 4.

The ministers approved the highest price bid of M/s Talace Pvt Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of M/s Tata Sons Pvt. Ltd for sale of 100% equity shareholding of the government of India in Air India along with equity shareholding of Air India in AIXL and AISATS.

The transaction does not include non-core assets including land and building, valued at Rs14,718 crore, which are to be transferred to GoI’s Air India Asset Holding Limited (AIAHL). This marks the return of Air India to the Tatas.

“Welcome Back Air India,” said Ratan Tata, Tata Sons’ chairman emeritus on Twitter after the announcement.

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata founded the airline in 1932. It was called Tata Airlines then. In 1946, the aviation division of Tata Sons was listed as Air India and in 1948, Air India International was launched with flights to Europe.

The international service was among the first public-private partnerships in India, with the government holding 49 percent, the Tatas keeping 25 percent, and the public owning the rest. In 1953, Air India was nationalized.

The government is selling 100 percent of its stake in the state-owned national airline, including Air India’s 100 percent shareholding in AI Express Ltd and 50 percent in Air India SATS Airport Services Private Ltd.

A successful sale of the loss-making national flag carrier will be a major victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as it cost taxpayers an average of nearly $3 million a day for the past decade. It would also bode well for planned stake sales in a slew of state-run firms to bolster government coffers and make India a fully market-driven economy.

The deal, which is expected to be finalized by the end of the year, puts Air India back in the hands of the group, which founded it as Tata Airlines in 1932 before it was nationalized in 1953.

Tata currently operates two airlines — Vistara, India’s only other full-service carrier, in a venture with Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) as well as budget airline AirAsia India, a venture with Malaysia’s AirAsia Group (AIRA.KL).

Family scion and emeritus chairman of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata said on Twitter that while it will take “considerable effort to rebuild Air India”, it would provide a strong market opportunity to Tata’s presence in the aviation industry.

The acquisition will give Tata an additional 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international slots at Indian airports annually, as well as 900 slots at airports overseas, the most lucrative of which is at London’s Heathrow.

Tata will also gain 8,000 full-time employees and some 120 planes, mostly older narrowbody Airbus aircraft but also some newer widebody Boeing planes.

“Air India provides a unique and attractive international footprint,” Tata Sons said in a statement, adding that more than two-thirds of the airline’s revenue comes from international markets like North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

The stake sale process, which began in January 2020, faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2021, the government asked potential bidders to put in financial bids. Sept.15 was the last day for putting in financial bids. Tata Group was among the multiple entities that had put in an initial expression of interest (EoI) in December 2020 for buying the Maharaja.

Source: The Indian Express

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