Lenders to take over Jet Airways: Ministry sources

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New Delhi, March 22 (IANS) Lenders of cash-strapped Jet Airways are in the process of securing “substantial stake” in the ailing airline to try and revive it to a manageable state before selling it to new promoters, a senior Finance Ministry source said on Friday.

“Only after securing substantial stake in the airline, the lenders are planning to sell Jet Airways, and the existing promoters need to exit before new buyers can be roped in”, he said.

After defaulting on interest payments and delaying salaries to pilots, with Jet Airways now flying just about a third of its fleet following the recent grounding of many aircraft, the full service carrier is currently in a near standstill situation.

“The lenders will take over the airline for the time being and try to give some comfort in terms of paying the salaries, and no new promoters are likely to come in for 2-3 months. Jet promoters need to exit before new promoters are roped in and need a clen deal to sell Jet Airways”, the source said.

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Jet Airways has a debt of over Rs 8,200 crore and needs to make repayments of up to Rs 1,700 crore by the end of March. In case the airline collapses, 23,500 jobs could be at stake.

Jet Airways is headed by Naresh Goyal, who currently holds 51 per cent stake, while Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has another 24 per-cent.

There are reports of Etihad reaching out to state-run State Bank of India (SBI) to purchase its 24 per cent stake in the airline.

SBI is the lead lender of the consortium of bankers which have lent to Jet Airways.

The Jet Airways pilots’ union had, on Tuesday, threatened to stop flying from April 1 if their salaries are not paid by March 31.

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The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said only 41 aircraft of Jet Airways were currently available for operation and there may be “further attrition” of flights “in coming weeks”. 41 aircraft is just one-third of Jet’s fleet of 119 planes.

The urgency to resolve the Jet issue became clear last week when the Prime Minister’s Office signalled its direct involvement after Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra along with SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar and Avilation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to work out a revival plan.

Mishra’s involvement in discussions to revive an airline is to be seen in the context of a poll year where the government would not want job losses and airfare hikes, as well as losses to for state-run lenders trying hard to recover their bad loans

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Queried by reporters if there is a new promoter in the offing for Jet Airways, the SBI Chairman had said: “No possibility is ruled out”.

(Anjana Das can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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