India receives bids to buy state-owned Air India airline

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government says it has received “multiple expressions of interest” in buying its 100% stake in debt-laden national carrier Air India to shore up falling government revenues after an initial attempt in 2018 failed to attract any bidders.

The deadline for submission of formal bids was Monday and the government is expected to announce qualified bidders on Jan. 5. It did not reveal the identity of the bidders or the number of bids received.

“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 Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey tweeted.

Indian media reports said Indian conglomerate Tata Group and a group of 219 Air India employees along with Interups Inc., a U.S.-based fund, filed expressions of interest.

In January, the government invited initial expressions of interest in the airline, which operates both domestic and international routes and has accumulated huge losses in the past decade.

It said the bidders would have to absorb 232 billion rupees ($3.26 billion) of the airline’s 580 billion rupee ($8 billion) debt burden.

Air India carried 18.36 million domestic passengers in 2019 and has suffered from overly bureaucratic management and political interference as privately owned low-cost carriers have gained market share. It started as a mail carrier in 1932 before gaining commercial popularity and has been incurring losses since its 2007 merger with a state-owned domestic carrier, Indian Airlines.

The new owner will be taking on a fleet of 121 Air India aircraft and 25 planes from its subsidiary Air India Express, which operates low-cost flights to more than 30 destinations in India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

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