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Deadline today and still no buyer, Air India is on a wing and a prayer

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NEW DELHI: The government has not received any bids so far for its stake in state-run carrier Air India,  Civil Aviation Secretary told TV channels, a day before the formal bidding process closes.

The government will not extend the deadline for submissions of interest in Air India, R.N. Choubey said on Wednesday. The deadline for receiving bids has already been extended once to May 31 from May 14.

Government of India, is keen to sell the loss-making, debt-ridden airline, finalised plans in late March to divest a 76 percent stake and offload about $5.1 billion of its debt.

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Government had earlier extended the deadline to May 31 from May 14. Air India’s total debt was Rs 48,781crore at the end of March 2017.

On May 23, Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey had said the highest bidder for the airline would be known by August-end. But, the highest bidder might not be the successful bidder, he said, adding the government intends to complete the disinvestment by year-end.

Significantly, he had said the government could decide against selling state-run Air India if it does not get “adequate” price for it.

“The government has the right to sell or not to sell Air India if the bid price is found to be inadequate,” Choubey had told reporters.

The profitable Air India Express and the joint venture AISATS — an equal joint venture between the national carrier and the Singapore-based SATS Ltd — will also be a part of the disinvestment process.

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IndiGo and an unnamed international carrier had officially expressed interest in bidding for Air India. Jet Airways and Tata Group’s names also cropped up as potential bidders.

But the government’s stipulation that the winning bidder cannot merge the airline with existing businesses as long as the government holds a stake had kept many bidders at bay.

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