Air India flights
One bid gets ejected, how many are left? Tata Sons should be in the driving seat to pick up India's eternally struggling national airline. Image Credit: AFP

Mumbai: A group of Air India Ltd. employees has been ruled out of a bidding process to take control of the loss-making national carrier, as the government moves ahead with its years-long attempt to offload the airline.

"I write to you with a heavy heart on the outcome of our bid to acquire Air India," the airline's commercial director Meenakshi Malik wrote in a letter to employees dated March 8. "We have been unsuccessful in qualifying to the next phase of the 'Disinvestment Acquisition' process."

Citing a letter from Ernst & Young, which is advising the government on the sale, Malik said the group didn't meet eligibility requirements. They include submitting three years of audited financial statements for foreign consortium members and being an appropriately regulated foreign investment fund. The group of employees partnered with a Seychelles-based fund for the bid.

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Way clears

Tata Sons Ltd., the holding company of the conglomerate that owns an 84 per cent stake in AirAsia India and controls Jaguar Land Rover, is among the remaining bidders. SpiceJet Ltd. promoter Ajay Singh and two other investors have also shown an interest in acquiring Air India. Singh is seeking a 100 per cent stake with support from investors, including a foreign fund.

Debt-ridden Air India has been up for sale since 2017. The government extended a bid deadline last year and said potential suitors would be allowed to decide how much of its debt they'd take on as part of the transaction.

The carrier has been unprofitable since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines Ltd., and has relied on taxpayer money to keep flying.