Qatar Airways rethinks Indian plans due to foreign ownership rules

Enquiries to start the application process in India were rejected over QIA’s ownership of Qatar Airways, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker said. (Reuters)
Updated 05 September 2018
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Qatar Airways rethinks Indian plans due to foreign ownership rules

  • India now allows 100 percent ownership of India-based airlines, up from 49 percent, but only with government approval
  • Qatar Airways has been interested in investing in IndiGo for several years, though never bought into the airline

NEW DELHI: Qatar Airways is reviewing plans for its own domestic Indian airline due to “confusing” foreign ownership rules and could work with a partner in India or take a stake in IndiGo instead, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
The state-owned Gulf carrier has long coveted the Indian aviation market, which is the fastest growing in the world, and in 2017 said it would set up a domestic airline, a year after India eased foreign investment rules for the sector.
“We are really very interested to launch an airline in India, but the regulation is a little bit confusing to us,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker told reporters in New Delhi.
India now allows 100 percent ownership of India-based airlines, up from 49 percent, but only with government approval. Meanwhile, foreign airlines continue to be limited to 49 percent ownership.
Qatar Airways planned to own a minority stake of the domestic airline with sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) being the majority owner.
However, enquiries to start the application process in India were rejected over QIA’s ownership of Qatar Airways, Baker said.
“We really don’t know what is allowed,” he said.
Qatar Airways could now work with an Indian partner for the domestic airline or alternatively seek a 15 to 25 percent stake in low cost airline IndiGo. If both of those failed then the airline would have to forget about the domestic market, Baker said.
Qatar Airways has been interested in investing in IndiGo for several years, though never bought into the airline.
Qatar Airways would be interested in buying Air India which the government wants to sell a 76 percent stake in, Baker said, adding it would only want the core airline assets and not other parts of the business such as ground handling services.
Any bid for Air India would be dependent on working with a strong Indian partner, Baker said, adding that the airline’s debt was not an issue. India wants to offload about $5.1 billion of Air India’s debt.
“The (Air India) debt can be taken and restructured. The issue is with whom we will partner.”
Qatar Airways expects to release its annual results in two weeks’ time, Baker said. He has previously said the airline made a “substantial” loss, which it blamed on a regional dispute that has banned the airline from four Arab countries.


Crisis at India’s Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

The debt-laden carrier has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Crisis at India’s Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

  • More than 20,000 people are employed in the company
  • The company had to stop more than 50% of their aircraft due to insufficient funds

MUMBAI: India's Jet Airways was fighting multiple crises Wednesday after grounding six planes, leaving it with only a third of its fleet flying, while pilots have threatened to walk out and a major shareholder is reportedly looking to offload its huge stake.

The problems at India's number-two carrier come as other airlines struggle to turn a profit despite the sector rapidly expanding in the country over recent years.

Jet, which employs more than 20,000 people, is gasping under debts of more than $1 billion and has now been forced to ground a total of 78 of its 119 aircraft after failing to pay lenders and aircraft lessors.

In a statement late Tuesday announcing its latest grounding, the firm it said it was "actively engaging" with lenders to secure fresh liquidity and wanted to "minimise disruption".

But with hundreds of customers left stranded, Jet's social media accounts have been flooded with often suddenly stranded passengers demanding information, new flight tickets and refunds.

"@jetairways We book our flights in advance so that we save on travel cost and you are sending cancellation (message) now?", read one irate tweet on Wednesday.

"I have sent a DM (direct message) regarding my ticket details. Please respond!", said Sachin Deshpande, according to his Twitter profile a design engineer.

Another, Ankit Maloo, wrote: "Received an email for all together cancellation of flight days before departure without any prior intimation or communication over phone!"

The firm is also facing pressure from its many pilots who have not been paid on time, with unions threatening they will walk off the job if salaries do not arrive soon.

"Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions," a spokesperson for the National Aviator's Guild, a pilots union, told AFP.

India's aviation regulator on Tuesday warned Jet Airways to ensure that staffers facing stress are not forced to operate flights.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates has offered to sell its 24 percent stake in Jet to State Bank of India (SBI).

A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pragmatic pro-business reputation ahead of elections starting on April 11.

India's passenger numbers have rocketed six-fold over the past decade with its middle-class taking advantage of better connectivity and cheaper flights.

The country's aviation sector is projected to become the world's third-largest by 2025.

But like other carries, Mumbai-based Jet has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices, a weak rupee and fierce competition from budget rivals.

Alarm bells for Jet first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay its staff, including pilots, on time. It then later reported a loss of $85 million.

In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders including SBI to bridge a funding gap, but the crisis has since deepened.

"Jet Airways is rapidly reaching a point of no return and running out of assets to keep itself afloat," Devesh Agarwal, editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP.

"The only solution is equity expansion by diluting its stakes but Jet is just trying to cut losses and running out of options," Agarwal said.

Shares in Jet Airways were down more than five percent on Wednesday.