All eyes on Jet Airways, as deadline to submit bids expires later today

The deadline to submit bids for Jet Airways expires later today. Bids, if any, will be crucial for the embattled airline to resume operations, which were suspended on April 17.

There is speculation that if there are no bids, the deadline could be extended.

After closing the doors for expression of interest (EoI) on April 12, SBI Caps, which is overseeing the bidding process, had shortlisted four suitors — Etihad Airways, TPG Capital, Indigo Partners and National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF).

While none of them has still put in a proposal, the airline has received interest from different sets of parties.

One of them is AdiGro Aviation, part of London-based AdiGroup, which was earlier linked to Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal, and another set of investors led by British entrepreneur Jason Unsworth.

Unsworth, who had initially written to Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube about his interest in the airline, has tied up with NRI entrepreneur Lakshay Uttam and investment firms. While Unsworth had earlier claimed that Adi Partners — a consulting firm part of the AdiGroup — was part of his consortium, AdiGro Chairman Sanjay Viswanathan contradicted the claim.

Separately, a group of Jet Airways’ employees also approached SBI Caps, offering to take control of the airline, with claims of having access to Rs 7,000-crore in funds.

But SBI Caps has made it clear that it will first wait for the shortlisted bidders to put in a proposal. If there is none, then it will entertain unsolicited offers.

Since suspending its operations about three weeks ago, Jet Airways has steadily lost aircraft, airport slots and employees to its competitors. Any bidder will have to come with considerable funding as the airline owes Rs 8,000 crore to banks and thousands of crore more to lessors, vendors and employees, who haven’t been paid since March.

Mumbai Mirror reported that the airline has been served a notice by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner’s office for failing to deposit the provident fund of employees since March.

The report quoted the commissioner saying: “As per our records, Jet Airways has 13,839 employees… We will refund employees as claims come. If anyone needs an advance, we can provide that as well.”

Separately, the airline has also been hit by investigations. In one, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing Etihad’s 2014 investment in JetPrivilege Private (JPPL), the company that operated Jet Airways’ frequent-flier programme.

In the second, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has asked the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) to begin a probe into Jet Airways on suspicion that the promoters siphoned off money.

Despite the setbacks, the interest from unsolicited suitors has raised hopes of shortlisted bidders that are putting in a proposal to revive the airline. Its employees, many of whom are still staying on board, will be the most anxious lot.