Etihad turns up at eleventh hour as lone bidder for Jet

Switching partners:Etihad said other investors would need to bring in the majority of recapitalisation funds.Ramesh Sharma  

Etihad Airways PJSC, which holds 24% stake in Jet Airways, on Friday, submitted a binding bid to acquire additional minority stake in Jet Airways in the bank-led resolution plan. Lenders had put 75% stake of Jet Airways on sale.

Etihad’s bid came just before the end of the deadline for receipt of binding bids invited by SBI Caps on behalf of lenders. Etihad, which has put several conditions before the lenders, including a waiver from making a mandatory open offer, is the only candidate which submitted the binding bid among the four short-listed bidders selected earlier through the Expression of Interest (EoI) process. The others were TPG Capital, Indigo Partners and National Investment & Infrastructure Fund (NIIF).

Confirming the development, an Etihad spokesperson said, “Etihad Airways today confirmed its interest to re-invest in a minority stake in India’s Jet Airways, subject to conditions.”

“India is one of the fastest-growing air transport markets in the world, and a significant economic partner of the UAE. Etihad has been working consistently with key stakeholders in India over the past 15 months to help find a solution which would ensure Jet’s return as a viable and competitive Indian airline, and continues to do so,” the spokesperson said.

“Etihad re-emphasises that it cannot be expected to be the sole investor, and that, among other requirements, additional suitable investors would need to provide the majority of Jet Airways’ required recapitalisation,” the spokesperson added.

Minority partner

This means, Etihad Airways will remain a minority partner and can have maximum holding of up to 49%. As per foreign investment norms, majority control of any airline has to be in the hands of Indians.

SBI Caps, in a statement said, “Sealed bid from Etihad Airways PJSC has been received and the same will be submitted to lenders for examination. Few unsolicited offers have also been received, which the lenders may deliberate upon subsequently.”

The unsolicited bids are believed to have been received from a consortium of Future Trend Capital, Redcliffe Capital and Adi Partners, and from Jason Unsworth of start-up Atmosphere Intercontinental Airline, which has been backed by some investors.

According to analysts, Etihad would be able to revive Jet in the shortest span.

“It is a positive development in the Jet Airways saga. Etihad probably is the logical partner from here on for Jet Airways. They will clearly bring significant experience in rebuilding the Jet brand, while from a financial support perspective they have the balance sheet size to be able to do so,” said K.G. Vishwanath, director and co-founder Trinity Aviation Consultants Pte. Ltd.

“India is a strategic market and a growing one. It fits in very well from a long haul network perspective for Etihad, a big reason they invested in Jet Airways,” Mr. Vishwanath, a former Jet Airways vice-president, said.