Salt-to-software conglomerate Tata group and US-based fund Interups Inc were among "multiple" entities who on Monday put in preliminary bids for buying the loss-making carrier Air India.
A group of 219 Air India employees submitted an expression of interest (EoI) for the carrier in partnership with Interups at the close of the deadline on Monday.
"Multiple expressions of interest have been received for strategic disinvestment of Air India. The transaction will now move to the second stage," department of investment and public asset management (DIPAM) secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey tweeted.
He, however, did not reveal either the identity of the bidders or the number of bids received for buying the national carrier.
Sources said Tata Sons, holding company of the Tata group, has put in an EoI and so did Interups, whose chairman Laxmi Prasad had in the run-up to the disinvestment made his intentions clear to bid for Air India.
It was not, however, immediately clear if Tatas have bid alone or through its budget airline AirAsia India.
A group of 219 Air India Ltd employees, each one contributing at least Rs 1 lakh, hold 51 per cent in the bidding consortium. The remaining 49 per cent is with Interups.
An official said the transaction advisor will inform bidders before January 6, if their bids have qualified.
Qualified bidders will then be asked to submit financial bids.
The government is selling its entire 100 per cent stake in Air India that has been in losses ever since its 2007 merger with domestic operator Indian Airlines.
The airline, which started as a mail carrier in 1932, will give a successful bidder control of 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international landing and parking slots at domestic airports, as well as 900 slots at airports overseas.
Besides, the bidder would also get 100 per cent of the low-cost arm Air India Express and 50 per cent of AISATS, which provides cargo and ground handling services at major Indian airports.
With previous attempts since 2017 failing to get any significant interest, the government had this time sweetened the deal by giving freedom to potential suitors to decide how much of the airline's debt they want to take on as part of the transaction.
Previously, the bidders were required to take over the entire Rs 60,074 crore debt.
Tatas operate two airlines -- full-service carrier Vistara in partnership with Singapore Airlines, and budget airline AirAsia India in alliance with Malaysia's AirAsia Group.
The DIPAM secretary had earlier said that potential investors in Air India have given feedback that due to the uncertainty created by Covid in the aviation sector, the debt should not be fixed at the EoI stage.
Hence, the government late in October decided to do bidding for Air India based on enterprise value, which includes market capitalisation of a company, short-term and long-term debt as well as any cash on the company's balance sheet.
Sale of stake in Air India is part of the government's target to raise a record Rs 2.10 lakh crore from disinvestment proceeds. The target includes Rs 1.20 lakh crore from the sale of shares of central public sector enterprises and Rs 90,000 crore from a share sale in public sector banks and financial institutions, including the listing of insurance behemoth LIC.
So far this fiscal, Rs 6,138 crore has been mopped up through CPSE stake sale.