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Crisis-hit SpiceJet may see change of guard

Source: PTI
December 22, 2014 09:50 IST
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Beleaguered SpiceJet could see a change of guard if Indian and foreign investors, who are now carrying out due-diligence of the cash-strapped airline, are convinced about investing Rs 1,200 crore (Rs 12 billion) and picking up considerable stake in it, industry sources said on Sunday.

After being on the brink of collapse with all its flights grounded five days ago, Ajay Singh, one of the original promoters, seems to have stepped in as a white knight to help rescue the budget carrier, by evincing interest to re-invest, along with other investors.

The potential acquirers are likely to take four to six weeks to complete evaluating the cash-strapped carrier and its assets and take a decision thereafter, the sources said, adding that SpiceJet's data room has been opened for due-diligence.

If the investment goes through, control of the airline might shift from media baron Kalanithi Maran’s hands to the potential investors, though his Sun Group could continue to be a minority shareholder, the sources said.

The Marans own 53.48 per cent in the company together, with their Sun Group. Singh held a series of meetings late last week with Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and top government officials, fuelling speculation of more investments coming in from new investors in SpiceJet.

Singh, who currently holds about five per cent stake, originally held about 12 per cent, with another co-promoter a non-resident Indian investor Bhulo Kansagra.

In 2010, the Marans bought nearly 38 per cent stake from Kansagra and investor Wilbur Ross.

Singh is understood to be playing the role of a bridge between the blue-chip investors and the airline to bring it back on track, help it meet its losses and make it profitable once again.

The investors are considered to be close to investing Rs 1,400-1,500 crore, though the actual amount would depend on the diligence exercise, the sources said.

Through the fresh investment, the new promoters would buy equity and service the airline's current debt of Rs 2,000 crore.

SpiceJet's total market cap is around Rs 900 crore.

SpiceJet has an immediate overdue of Rs 1,400 crore to vendors, lessors, airport operators and oil companies, among others, and an overall due of around Rs 2,000 crore.

The investment would not only take care of the dues but provide additional funds to keep it afloat and flying, the sources said.

They said the current timing was also "opportune" with the jet fuel prices down and the Indian domestic and international aviation market growing rapidly.

However, the priority now is to stabilise the operations of the budget carrier and ensure that its scheduled flights were maintained on a daily basis, the sources said.

The new investors are understood to be interested in restoring the 'low-cost' model of SpiceJet, which they feel underwent a change as serious mistakes were committed.

Two types of aircraft (Boeing 737s and Q-400 regional jets) were inducted and the seat configuration changed from all-economy model to having a business class on board. The industry sources said the investors felt these were mistakes as the airline had deviated from the original low-cost model.

The government does not want a repeat of a Kingfisher- like episode which would reflect negatively on it, as airfares would go through the roof and about 10,000 employees' jobs would be at stake.

Closure of SpiceJet would impact not only on investments in the aviation sector but on the overall investment climate in the country as a whole, the sources added.

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