Govt looks to move debt out of Air India balance sheet before stake sale

The government is looking to shift more debt from the balance sheet of disinvestment-bound Air India to asset holding company AIAHL to further sweeten the deal for prospective buyers, according to a senior airline official.

The government plans to sell 100 per cent stake in the loss-making carrier.

In efforts to make the disinvestment more attractive, the carrier has already transferred Rs 29,474 crore of debt to Air India Assets Holding Ltd (AIAHL), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).

"We are evaluating if we can take out some more debt from the balance sheet and park it in the SPV. Earlier, our plan was to give debt in proportion to assets. As part of that, we have already transferred almost half of the total debt to AIAHL," the official in the know of the development told PTI.

The official also said the government is trying to work out some formula to further make the deal more sweeter.

On Monday, Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said the government is working on the debt issue of Air India to make it more attractive to buyers.

"However, investors thought that the amount of debt retained by the carrier was not going to sustain so we are working on that also. We will see to it that the debt being parked with Air India is such that any bidder will be able to make it sustainable and if he feels that he can invest and improve profitably," Kharola had said.

On Tuesday, the official said it is yet to be decided whether the additional debt will be taken out of the aircraft loan or working capital. "It is more or less decided that they will remove some more," the official added.

Air India has a debt of over Rs 58,000 crore.

The airline's net loss in 2018-19 is provisionally estimated to be Rs 8,556.35 crore.

An industry expert opined that the airline cannot be given for free and that any prospective buyer will have to shoulder a part of the total debt.

"Air India owns over 60 planes of the total 127 in the fleet, which are good assets. You can't give an airline without any debt with such assets," he said.

On December 12, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said that after formation of the new government, Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM) has been reconstituted and the re-initiation of the strategic disinvestment of Air India has been approved.

"AISAM has approved the 100 per cent sale of Government of India stake in Air India for the re-initiated strategic disinvestment of Air India," he had told the Lok Sabha.



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