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Singapore airlines open to bidding for Air India: Vistara CEO

Air India had total debt of about Rs 48,877 crore at the end of March 2017 -- Rs 17,360 crore of aircraft loans and Rs 31,517 crore of working capital loans.

business Updated: Jan 05, 2018 23:35 IST
Tarun Shukla
Tarun Shukla
Live Mint, New Delhi
Tata Group,Singapore Airlines,Air India
An Air India aircraft takes off as an IndiGo Airlines aircraft waits for clearance at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad.(REUTERS)

Singapore Airlines has an open mind on bidding for Air India Ltd, making it the first foreign airline to express an interest in looking at India’s national carrier.

“I think Singapore Airlines has an open mind. It really depends eventually on whether there is a business case. I don’t think we know enough at this moment,” Leslie Thng, chief executive officer of Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines, told reporters at a press briefing.

Prior to his current assignment, Thng was CEO of Singapore Airlines-owned regional carrier Silk Air. He has a three-year term as CEO of Vistara.

Both the Tata group and Singapore Airlines have attempted to take over Air India in the past and are seen as potential bidders for the debt-laden airline.

Air India has a strong brand presence globally, Thng said, listing the Indian airline’s several pluses. “If you look at the history, Air India was in fact one of the pioneers in many of the aviation launches. Air India actually has a very good reputation in some of the markets. People know about Air India -- there are a lot of NRIs (non-resident Indians) who live overseas, who know about Air India. It flies to many international destinations. The brand awareness of Air India is not weak,” he added.

In October, Tata Sons Ltd executive chairman N. Chandrasekaran said the Mumbai-based group is considering buying Air India but did not comment on the position of Singapore Airlines.

The government has hired EY to advise it on the Air India sale process, which is likely to take about 6-9 months. IndiGo, run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd has expressed interest in Air India. Bird Group, Menzies Aviation, Livewel Aviation, and Turkey’s Celebi Aviation Holding have also shown interest in Air India subsidiaries.

Air India had total debt of about Rs 48,877 crore at the end of March 2017 -- Rs 17,360 crore of aircraft loans and Rs 31,517 crore of working capital loans. Air India has already received nearly Rs27,000 crore of the Rs 50,000 crore equity promised by the government in 2012 The airline has a fleet of about 140 planes with 17% share of traffic on routes linking India to international destinations and about 13% of the domestic market

Meanwhile, Vistara will make its international debut later this year. The airline, which operates 17 Airbus A320 aircraft, will see three more aircraft join the fleet by March followed by one each in May and June.

The airline will go international in the second half of 2018 after it gets designated as an international carrier by the government and wins flying rights. The airline plans to fly on routes that already have flights as also to new cities where there is a business case.

First Published: Jan 05, 2018 19:34 IST