Etihad discusses rescue deal for India’s Jet Airways

Source:Reuters Published: 2018/12/6 18:44:35

A Jet Airways aircraft taxis at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in June 2017. The airline uses Schiphol as a secondary hub to connect Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore with Toronto Pearson Airport. Photo: IC

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, the second-largest shareholder of Jet Airways Ltd, is holding talks with the debt-laden Indian carrier and its bankers on a rescue plan, two sources aware of the matter told Reuters.

Executives from Etihad, which owns a 24 percent stake in Jet, and the Indian carrier have met some of the airline's bankers from the State Bank of India (SBI) in Mumbai in recent days to discuss ways to address its cash flow issues and evaluate the carrier's future business plan, the sources said.

Etihad is also considering investing fresh funds in the airline if it can agree on the structure, one of the sources said, adding that no deal has been finalized.

The business plan presented to banks includes details on Jet's network and fleet expansion target for the next three to five years as well as revenue and cost projections, the second source said.

There is an indication that by mid-January the airline could see some money coming in, said the source, adding that Jet does not have the liquidity to honor all its payments and expenses but is paying its statutory dues like taxes.

The sources did not want to be named as the discussions are private.

Jet, Etihad and SBI did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Jet, India's biggest full service carrier by market share, is in desperate need of cash. The 25-year-old airline, founded by Naresh Goyal, has outstanding dues of about $400 million which it mainly owes to lessors and vendors, one of the sources, who is close to the matter, said.

It has delayed salary payments to pilots and top executives and is cutting flights on non-profitable routes to save money.

With fewer flights on some routes, the airline is looking at reducing some airport and support staff, the source said, adding that it has also deferred the delivery of at least two aircraft to January from November-December.

Some domestic airport operators and fuel suppliers have put Jet on cash-and-carry, meaning it must pay cash in advance for the services it uses, the source said.

India is one of the world's fastest-growing domestic aviation markets, but high fuel prices, a weak rupee and intense price wars in the country, which is dominated by no-frills airlines like Interglobe Aviation Ltd's IndiGo, has exacerbated Jet's woes in recent months.

Etihad has already come to Jet's rescue once when it picked up a 24 percent stake in the carrier in 2013, but the situation is different this time.

While the Abu Dhabi-based carrier is invested in Jet, it has lost money in other airline ventures such as Alitalia and Air Berlin and may be wary of loosening the purse strings again, said another source.

Foreign carriers are permitted to own up to 49 percent in an Indian airline.

Also, with tighter lending norms and a liquidity crisis in India, bankers may be hesitant to lend more to the struggling airline. Jet had debt of about 80.52 billion rupees ($1.14 billion) as of Sept. 30.

Etihad's and Jet's meeting with SBI, India's biggest state-run bank, has been focused on resolving operational cash flow issues, said one source, adding that they want visibility on how much more debt they can get while the bank wants to know how much equity they can put in upfront.


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