Pitching for more liberal norms for Air India sale and aligning them to investor interest, global aviation consultancy CAPA has said that brand, labour and higher than expected debt continue to be major deterrents for the potential bidders.
At the same time, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) did not sound very hopeful of the government meeting the December deadline to complete the sale process, which kickstarted with the floating of the Expressions of Interest (EoI) on March 28.
"EOI released recently is well structured and largely aligned to generating interest from investors, which has attempted to balance the needs of different stakeholders while moving the process forward.
"As it happens in such complex transactions, being flexible and having an open mind on major issues is necessary. Revising EOI with more liberal terms will be required to further align it to investor interest," CAPA said in a report today.
Significantly, a joint forum of 10 Air India unions have dubbed the move by potential investors as "arm twisting tactics" to force government sell the national carrier for cheap.
On March 28, the Civil Aviation Ministry came out with the preliminary information memorandum on Air India's strategic disinvestment, as per which the government plans to offload 76 per cent equity share capital of the national carrier as well as transfer the management control.
The proposed transaction would involve Air India, its low-cost arm Air India Express and Air India SATS Airport Services, which is an equal joint venture between the national airline and Singapore-based SATS.
CAPA said it expects a revision in the EOI which will need to be flexible on branding and provide clarity on labour issues, adding that there is a possibility of the government further reducing non-aircraft related debt.
"More important, a written commitment of no interference as government will hold 24 per cent equity (in Air India)," it said.
Noting that an upfront clarity on these issues, especially labour, is critical to generate interest, it said," No one will invest billions in Air India and face union disruptions and unexpected costs without firm commitment from the government."
Not ruling out both Jet Airways and IndiGo being in the fray in the eventuality of the government revising the rule of the game, CAPA said, "Some of them opting out doesn't necessary dilute the value and prospects of this divestment."
Budget carrier IndiGo, which is struggling with Pratt & Whitney engine issues in its A320 Neo planes, had initially evinced interest in acquiring Air India's international operations, but later backed out, saying such an option was not available under the disinvestment plan.
Days later, Naresh Goyal-owned Jet Airways also said it had decided not to participate in the Air India sale process considering the terms of offer in the information memorandum and based on its review.
"The so-claimed probable buyers are using arm twisting tactics so as to put pressure on the government to succumb to change the terms and conditions best suited to them and the Air India is sold for a song," the Joint Forum of Air India Unions/Guilds/Association said in a statement today.
The forum comprises Air Corporations Employees Union, All India Service Engineers' Associations, Air India Employees Union, Aviation Industry Employee Guild, Air India Aircraft Engineers' Association, All India Aircraft Engineers' Association, Air India Engineers Association, United Air India Officers Association, All India Cabin Crew Association and All India Airline Retired Personnel Association.
"The joint forum as stated many times has strongly opposed the privatisation of Air India and its subsidiaries as the Air India is our national pride and served the nation many a times at needs," it said.
The Air India unions forum also said that it will take up the issue with the PMO and the Civil Aviation Ministry, among others.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)