Twenty-five-year-old Jet Airways and its 22,000 employees face an uncertain future as the Indian private airline’s founder and chairman Naresh Goyal stepped down from the board on Monday. Goyal’s wife and Jet Airways director, Anita Goyal also resigned, as did Etihad Airways’s nominee director Kevin Knight.
Creditors have formed an interim management committee to oversee the financial and operational performance of the airline under the supervision of the board of directors, with the support of McKinsey & Company. Meanwhile, lenders plan to initiate a bidding process for Jet Airways. The expression of interest (EOI) for bids starts on April 9, and the deadline for receipt of bids falls on April 30. Plans call for a new investor to be in place by early June.
With barely 40 aircraft of 119 left in operation as a result of operational chaos and pilots and lessors unpaid for months, Jet’s debts had mounted to over $1.52 billion to mostly government-owned banks. As part of the resolution plan, the banks will provide immediate interim funding support of $225 million to Jet Airways. “The airline will leverage the funding to partly clear pending dues towards lessors, vendors, creditors, and employees in a phased manner,” said a statement. “The move will see Jet Airways re-deploy several of its grounded aircraft back into its network, helping renew many of the routes it had temporarily suspended.”
Lessors have expressed concern in the past few months over the airline’s inability to pay its bills. “Now lessors are likely to get some breathing space for the next three months, as Jet will be alive until then and will continue to pay all parking and other charges as is the practice,” said Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Mumbai-based consultancy CAV Aero. “Lessors will also get time to assess where to place their aircraft.” While it remains unclear who will invest in Jet, Mansingh said the airline controls valuable assets in the form of skilled pilots and technicians, slots, and brand. “What needs to emerge is a lithe, agile, dynamic premium cost-efficient airline that has cut flab,” he added.
Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director of fellow Indian airline SpiceJet, offered a summary of the day’s significance. “Today is indeed a sad day for Indian aviation," he said, calling it a “wake-up call for Indian policymakers” to reconsider the regulatory practices and taxes that make the country's airlines so uncompetitive.