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Air India to sell prime real estate

By Arindam Majumder
Last updated on: June 02, 2017 16:19 IST
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Proceeds may be used to partly pay off its Rs 46,570-cr debt

Air India is planning to sell its properties and land parcels across the country. Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju met finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday to decide the process.

Sources privy to the discussions say the idea is to sell real estate assets in cities, airport locations, and airline offices at prime locations. A consultant will be appointed to make a detailed inventory report of the assets and fix a proper valuation for them.

The entire process will be reviewed by a committee, which will comprise of secretary-level officials from the civil aviation ministry and finance ministry, people from Air India, and a retired judge.

“Air India has a vast bank of immovable properties, which have been accumulated over a period of time at various locations in India and abroad. Some of the properties are lying unused for a long time. Besides these, there are some locations from where the airline has stopped functioning; the idea is to sell those assets to see how much it can reduce the company’s debts,” an official close to the developments said.

When asked about it after the meeting between civil aviation minister and finance minister, civil aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey said the government was considering all options. "At this stage, we are considering all options and we cannot say as to what will be the final decision," Choubey said.

Air India has a total debt of Rs 46,570 crore. Of the total debt, around Rs 16,000 crore is on account of aircraft loans, which were raised partially from Export-Import Bank of India, foreign institutions and through non-convertible debentures. The aircraft loans are guaranteed by the government. The remaining is working capital loan raised from a consortium of 25 banks led by State Bank of India.

This is not the first time that the company has decided to sell its assets. The previous UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government had also advised selling properties as a part of a turnaround plan approved in 2012.

When asked about Air India’s privatisation plan, finance minister Arun Jaitley said the civil aviation ministry will prepare a road map for the process.

Business Standard has learnt that despite Niti Aayog’s suggestion of a complete sell-out, the government may not cede control over the airline, and instead attempt a turnaround by a debt-equity swap with lenders, sale of non-core assets and appointment of professionals to run the airline.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the control of Air India by government is important because of its strategic importance in a sector that has a few private players.

“If you see Air India’s performance in terms of pure operational metrics, over the last two years it has done well, the debt issue has pinned them down, selling off non-core assets can be used to retire some of the debt burden,” a senior official said. A sale of the assets can generate more than Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion), the official said.

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Arindam Majumder in New Delhi
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