January 5, 2018 / 10:35 AM / 2 years ago

Tata, Singapore Airlines may assess bid for Air India: Vistara CEO

FILE PHOTO: A Singapore Airlines (SIA) logo is pictured at a counter at Changi airport in Singapore May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Tata Group and Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) are open to potentially bidding for the indebted carrier Air India [AIN.UL], a top official at a joint venture owned by the firms said on Friday.

Air India, which was founded in the 1930s by the Tata Group and nationalized in 1953, is saddled with a debt of $8.5 billion. The Indian government agreed last June to sell it, after multiple efforts to resurrect the business failed.

Leslie Thng, chief executive of Vistara, a carrier launched jointly by the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines in 2015, said in response to a question at a news conference that the companies were “open to evaluating” a potential bid for Air India.

“They keep an open mind,” Thng said, without elaborating.

It was not immediately clear if the companies might bid jointly or separately.

Several private domestic carriers have expressed an interest in buying the beleaguered airline, which still has about a 13 percent market share in India, and is the country’s third biggest carrier, according to analysts and government reports.

Tata Group Chairman N. Chandrasekaran said late last year the company would be interested in bidding for Air India.

Vistara’s Thng, at the conference, also said the group would lease five more A320neo aircraft by June 2018. Vistara currently has a total of 17 aircrafts on lease including four of the fuel-efficient A320neos.

(This version of the story corrects quote in paragraph 3.)

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Mark Potter and Adrian Croft

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