Dubai: India’s Jet Airways – at one time a popular choice on the UAE-India routes - could be relaunching full services within the next six months itself.
That’s according to the airline’s new owner – Dubai-based businessman Murari Lal Jalan, who was speaking to the media in India. Jet Airways services had been grounded since April 2019 after funding issues overwhelmed any continuation of operations. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is a shareholder in Jet. (Etihad, which holds a 24 per cent stake in Jet, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
India’s aviation regulators will consider granting slots and other approvals to Jet Airways only after the Kalrock-Jalan consortium gets approval from the National Company Law Tribunal (NLCT) for the takeover.
But can Jet Airways get off the ground some time over the next six months? More so, as doubts persist about the airline industry’s chances unless the COVID-19 pandemic is well and truly contained.
“Realistically, given the lengthy processes required to restart, I think the chances of them returning are quite slim,” said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. “There will continue to be numerous objections to them restarting along the way. And they have lost slots at key airports, which may frustrate them opening some routes back.”
Over the last decade, India’s budget carriers like Spicejet and Indigo began pulling more passengers with low fares. In a rate-based war for dominance, Jet – designed to be a premium carrier – lost out after continuously dipping into cash reserves and accruing more than $1 billion in debt.
Jet has a huge task given that the aviation industry is going through its worst crisis in history, when governments cut out commercial flight services in a bid to get a grip on the pandemic’s spread. This is continuing even now.
If that’s not enough, most of Jet’s domestic slots have been leased to competitors like SpiceJet, while most of its slots for international services have been removed or sold.
“The brand is tarnished, the reputation damaged, and so will travellers risk buying a ticket with the airline? Maybe not,” said Grant. “Combine that with the fierce competitive landscape which will lead to lower market fares, then it may be better to avoid operating [immediately].”
More than just debt
By 2018 end, Jet had posted back-to-back quarterly of losses, with money owed to lenders and aircraft leasing firms, among other parties. In March 2019, founder Naresh Goyal sold off his 51 per cent stake in the struggling airline. A few months down the line, Jet, once India’s largest private airline, suspended its operations after a final domestic flight.
Through his various investments and real estate projects, Jalan is one of the biggest foreign investors in Uzbekistan by size, according to the company’s website. MJ Developers’ portfolio in the Central Asian country includes a four-star 200-room hotel in Bukhara.
Kalrock Capital is a London-based investment advisor, which is mainly active in real estate, venture capital and special situations.
In October last year, the final resolution plans submitted by two interested buyers were put for e-voting for approval by Jet Airways’ Committee of Creditors (CoCs). The plan submitted by Jalan and Florian Fritsch, founder of UK-based Kalrock Capital, was approved by the creditors.
As per some media reports, the new owners agreed to pump in 10 billion rupees ($136 million) as working capital for the revival. Another 10 billion rupees will be given to creditors over a period of five years. Financial creditors of the airline will also get 10 per cent stake in the company.
Jet, which was funded by a private-public split between Naresh Goyal, Gulf Air and Kuwait Airways, quickly expanded the fleet, placing orders one after another, and eventually scooping up 20% of market share (mostly at the expense of then leader Indian Airlines).
Following a government directive that barred foreign investment in domestic carriers, Goyal bought up the rest of the 40 per cent from the Gulf-based airlines and became sole owner of the company.
The cash-strapped carrier dealt with fund misappropriation and legal issues before going defunct. In 2018, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs initiated a preliminary enquiry against the airline and its promoters over suspicions that the promoters had siphoned off funds. On the basis of this report, the ministry in 2019, asked Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to initiate a detailed enquiry.
Jet’s return comes at a most difficult time for the aviation industry. Airlines around the world are burning through billions of dollars trying to keep their operations going amid severely restricted travel demand.
The global airline industry could burn cash in the range of $75 billion to $95 billion this year, much higher than the previously estimated figure of $48 billion, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“If they (Jet Airways) can start - and I think the chances of that remain slim - and if their timing coincides with the easing of international travel restrictions, then they may be able to accommodate some of that pent up demand,” said Grant.
According to the latest predictions, if current restrictions continue, global air traffic this year may just be 38 per cent of 2019 levels. And if governments are more cautious towards relaxing travel restrictions, that figure could go further lower to 33 per cent.