Millennium Post

Is Tata in active talks to buy Jet Airways majority stake?

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian conglomerate Tata Sons is in active talks to acquire a controlling stake in Jet Airways, four people aware of the talks told Reuters, in what could potentially be a lifeline for the debt-laden carrier.

Tata is very interested in Jet but it is not at a stage of conducting due diligence or looking through non-public data, said two of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the discussions are private.

Tata told Reuters it would not comment on speculation.

In a response to the clarification sought by the BSE on the news reports, Jet Airways (India) said, "...the subject news is speculative in nature and that there is no discussion or decision in the board which would require a disclosure..."

Separately, its deputy chief executive and chief financial officer, Amit Aggarwal, in the post-earnings analysts call Tuesday also termed the reports speculative and said that unless something get materialised, the company will not comment.

"We can't comment on speculations. We have very clearly stated time and again that once something materialises, we will talk it through. Otherwise, we are not commenting on any speculation," he said.

However, one of the people said that one potential deal structure could include Tata taking over Jet's assets including the planes, leases, pilots and slots but not the whole company.

The first step is to see if the economics are viable, if it makes sense from the cost and strategy perspective, and if Tata can make it work with its other aviation businesses, the person said.

Tata already owns and operates two airlines in the country: full-service carrier Vistara, which is in partnership with Singapore Airlines Ltd, and low-cost carrier AirAsia India in combination with AirAsia Group Bhd.

The talks come as a mix of rising oil prices, a weak rupee, low fares and competition has seen profit dive in the world's fastest-growing aviation market, which is clocking 20 percent annual passenger growth.

Jet, founded by entrepreneur Naresh Goyal, is struggling to make payments to creditors including aircraft lessors and employees, and has seen its share price plunge 70 percent so far this year.

The airline said on Monday it would cut flights on less profitable routes and add capacity to more lucrative markets as part of a broader consolidation plan to reduce costs and boost revenue after it reported its third consecutive quarterly loss.

Any investment by Tata in Jet is, however, contingent to Goyal stepping down so that Tata has the power to take the decisions necessary to turn the airline around, the people said.

"A lot of deal structures are possible and being explored," said one of the people. "The only structure that is not viable is one with Goyal in it."

Mint newspaper earlier on Tuesday reported, citing two people directly aware of developments, that Tata was conducting due diligence on Jet Airways as it considered buying a controlling stake.

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