The government may further extend the date for submission of bids for Air India sale date beyond October 30 to give investors more time to make an offer while sweetening the deal terms further, finance minister officials privy to the development said.
The submission of initial bid or expression of interest (EoI) may be extended by 45 days to two months to December. Also, officials said that bidders would be given the option to decide on the quantum of debt in Air India books that they will like to absorb rather than freezing the debt amount and seeking investors bids.
As per the Air India EoI floated by DIPAM in January, of the airline’s total debt of Rs 60,074 crore as of March 31, 2019, the buyer would be required to absorb Rs 23,286.5 crore, while the rest would be transferred to Air India Assets Holding Ltd (AIAHL), a special purpose vehicle.
With the proposed changes, buyers will decide on the level of debt that they will take and the one taking the largest debt may be considered favourable to be declared winner.
Disinvestment secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey has also hinted at changes in the current structure of Air India transaction process in an interaction with journalists last week.
For the government, Air India has now become a test case on how to get investor interest in adversarial market conditions. While the airlines financials are already under severe pressure, the Covid -19 pandemic had further dented the prospects of the aviation industry putting the sale process under further problems. The bidding process for the debt-ridden airline has been postponed four times earlier and of October 30 deadline is changed now, it would be fifth such extension.
Sources said that changes in the structure of the sale process to facilitate investors would go by the principle of letting buyers decide the enterprise value of Air India rather than its market cap or using other valuation methodology. The enterprise valuation determines the value of an entity based on its market capitalisation and also debt in books and cash balances.
Sources said that changes in the valuation method has be approved by a CGD (Core Group on Disinvestment) headed by the cabinet secretary at its meeting last week and now it would be has placed before AISAM (Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism).
For Air India, the government is finding it tough to get investors on board. A Tata Group led consortium was considered favourite to take over the airline earlier but its interest in the airline lately has been subdued. With foreign airlines bleeding over fall in air travel during the pandemic, getting investors would be difficult. But Air India, with vast pool of international flying slots and a running overseas operation under the Vande Bharat scheme, is expected to get some investor interest.
Air India has been been unprofitable since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines Ltd., and since then is flying on government budgetary support adding pressure to central resources.
Air India disinvestment will be a key component of this years sell target of Rs 2.1 lakh crore. The government has so far mobilised a mere Rs 5,500 crore as disinvestment receipt.