September 8, 2017 / 9:25 AM / 2 months ago

Turkey's Celebi keen to buy Air India's ground handling unit

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Turkey’s Celebi Aviation Holding has shown interest in buying state-owned Air India’s ground handling operations, India’s aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey said on Friday.

The Air India logo is seen on the facade of its office building in Mumbai, India, July 7, 2017. Picture taken July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

Celebi, which also provides ground handling services in India, has written to the ministry showing interest to bid for the Indian flag carrier’s ground handing operations, Choubey told Reuters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet in June approved plans to privatise Air India after successive governments spent billions of dollars to keep the debt-laden carrier flying.

Celebi is the second firm to show interest in buying Air India’s ground handling operations.

Celebi was not immediately available for comment.

Last month India’s Bird Group, which handles ground services at seven airports in the country and operates hotels in the United Kingdom, had expressed its interest to bid for Air India Air Transport Services Ltd.

Founded in the 1930s and known to generations of Indians for its Maharajah mascot, Air India is saddled with a debt burden of $8.5 billion and a bloated cost structure. The government has injected $3.6 billion since 2012 to bail out the airline.

A ministerial panel, headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, has been appointed to look after the sale process of the flagship carrier, which has six subsidiaries – three of which are struggling to turn a profit – with assets worth about $4.6 billion.

Choubey said the panel is discussing whether to split Air India and restructure its debt ahead of privatisation.

Once the nation’s largest carrier, Air India’s share of the booming domestic market has slumped to 13 percent as private carriers such as IndiGo and Jet Airways have expanded.

In July, InterGlobe Aviation’s IndiGo, India’s largest airline that flies four of every 10 passengers, said it was keen to buy Air India’s international arm and low-cost division Air India Express.

Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

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