Sunday, January 02, 2022

Jet Airways may find a saviour in external funds

The previous management ran Jet Airways aground, much to the dismay of air travellers. After years of fruitless searching for a well-heeled saviour who could nurse the grounded airline back into the air, help may be on the way, according to industry sources. Jet Airways could, according to them, get investments from Moscow-centred investors to revive the beleaguered airline by the end of 2022. It is well known that the several billionaires in Russia are looking at exiting western countries and investing in friendlier shores. India qualifies, especially on account of the close relationship that has sprung up between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin, a master-stroke for both leaders.

An industry source following developments of the defunct airline told this reporter that Jet Airways’ new owner, the Jalan Kalrock consortium, could get help from Russia-centred hedge funds who have, according to the insider, been negotiating a long-term deal for almost a year and a half. “If this fructifies, then the airline will get the much needed cash for revival, although till date, the big investment has not happened. It could happen this year,” the source further said. It is known that certain competitors may be working hard to scupper the deal, worried that Jet Airways may regain the lustre it had before being run aground by the previous management, despite ties to an important politician (where the airlines portfolio was concerned) in the previous government.

Cash is vital for Jet Airways and without a substantial infusion, it is going to be a long haul before the company gets back to operational status. Hanging on the company’s head like the proverbial Damocles Sword is a whopping Rs 8,000 crore plus cash former Jet Airways promoter Naresh Goyal owes Indian banks. And Goyal needs to pay the cash, which is overdue. Banks are, however, optimistic that the dues will be cleared by the new consortium and of course Jet promoter Goyal, and have kept up their loans by funding the airline to the tune of Rs 10 crore per month.

Interestingly, the Jet Airways share still hovers around Rs 89.65 at the bourse. “It is very surprising to see shares of a defunct airline hover around the Rs 100 mark. This is actually bizarre, probably there is optimism that the cash will come. So the deals with the Russian fund managers must happen and not end up in smoke as other efforts had,” the source further said. There are some talks in the corridors of the Ministry of Civil Aviation that the Indian government may not allow Jet to sink. After the Kingfisher fiasco, this could send out a very wrong signal to domestic and international markets. In 2012, Kingfisher Airlines, founded by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, went bust for want of cash, leaving its lessors and creditors with pending dues.

After Kingfisher went down, India ratified the Cape Town convention, an international treaty making it easier for foreign owners to repossess aircraft when airlines default on payments. That means Jet’s lessors could choose to reclaim planes in case of a default.

Jet Airways has been, expectedly, dragged to the court by its creditors under India’s new insolvency laws. But there is hope among those eager to revive the airline. The consortium recently said it has plans to put more funds into the airline. An initial investment of Rs 350 crore has not yet materialized, but is said to have been put on fast track. The cash is yet to come. What is important is Jet Airways has yet to get the Air operator’s certificate (AOC). More importantly, it is yet to formalize the lease agreements for 20 aircraft. The consortium plans to induct 20 aircraft and is in conversation with Boeing and Airbus for orders. But much of it remains on paper as of the present, according to industry sources.

The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in June 2021 gave a go-ahead to Kalrock Capital and Murari Lal Jalan to revive debt-laden Jet Airways. Now, the consortium has decided to pay the staff of the erstwhile airline a sum of Rs 100 crore, which is around 8% of the total Rs 1,254 crore owed to them in payments towards provident fund, leave encashment, gratuity, and six months’ salary.

That actually means if a former employee of Jet Airways had unpaid dues of Rs 5 lakh, the employee would receive only Rs 40,000. The consortium also said out of the 4,000 employees, only 50 will be retained in Jet 2.0. The Times of India said around 3,796 employees did not resign hoping to be retained whenever Jet resumed operations.

According to the revamp, the rest of the employees will be demerged in a ground-handling subsidiary called “Airjet Ground Services Limited (AGSL)”, which is yet to be created. It is proposed that 24% shareholding will be with Jet 2.0, and the remaining 76% will be offered to the yet-to-be-formed employees’ trust. However, if the trust negates the offer, Jet will retain 100% ownership and deal with the issue as deemed fit, the conglomerate declared.

Jet Airways, started by Naresh Goyal in 1992, was grounded in 2019 due to an acute cash crunch. All the employees, including those who had been with the airline for more than 25 years, were suddenly jobless. Jet has admitted claims of Rs 7,460 crore from financial creditors, including State Bank of India (Rs 1,636 crore), Yes Bank (Rs 1,084 crore), Punjab National Bank (Rs 754 crore), and IDBI Bank (Rs 594 crore), among others.

01/01/22 Shantanu Guha Ray/Sunday Guardian Live

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