Govt weighs options on Air India’s Rs 30,000 crore debt

Air india

HIGHLIGHTS

  • A reverse bid will pit AI’s Rs 30,000-crore debt against rights such as landing slots and other operating assets
  • Air India has nearly Rs 60,000-crore debt on its books, of which around Rs 22,000 crore is linked to its aircraft purchase program

NEW DELHI: The government is weighing multiple options to raise money from Air India, going beyond the recommendation to take over Rs 30,000-crore debt suggested by NITI Aayog, which suggested stake sale of the cash-sucking carrier.

One of the options is to go for a reverse bid that will pit the Rs 30,000-crore debt against rights such as landing slots and other operating assets that are owned by the national airline, which give it an edge over all its rivals, many of which are finding ways to reduce costs when they fly abroad, sources said. In addition, Air India enjoys a nearly unmatched infrastructure presence at Indian airports. “There are ways to improve the returns for the government, which will be considered, but at the moment these are all options and the panel of ministers will chart the best course of action,” said a source.

Air India has nearly Rs 60,000-crore debt on its books, of which around Rs 22,000 crore is linked to its aircraft purchase programme.There are also loans of around Rs 6,000-7,000 crore related to its operations, which will go with the airline. NITI Aayog had suggested that the remaining amount could be taken over by the government to make the airline an attractive proposition for the new buyer.

 The sources said that writing off the amount will impose a burden on the exchequer as the government will have to take over the loans extended by banks. The lenders have refused to restructure the loan as it is seen to be an unviable proposition. “Through a reverse bid, we can realise better value and also make the whole process more transparent,” said a source.

Investment bankers said that other options were also possible and they could look at the global experience if mandated. The details, including the extent of the sale, will be worked out by a panel of ministers headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley.

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