Tata group regains control of debt-laden Air India

India Air India

NEW DELHI (AP) — Tata Sons, India’s oldest and largest conglomerate, has regained ownership of Air India, the country’s debt-laden national carrier.

Tata pioneered commercial aviation in India when it launched the airline in 1932. It was taken over by the government in 1953.

Tata Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday ahead of a meeting with Air India officials. In October, Tata's 180 billion rupee ($2.4 billion) bid for the carrier prevailed over a smaller bid by India SpiceJet chief Ajay Singh.

``We are delighted that this process is complete. Happy to have Air India back and we hope to create a world-class airline,″ Chandrasekaran told reporters.

Tata will absorb 153 billion rupees ($2 billion) of the airline’s more than 615 billion rupees ($8.2 billion) debt burden, a government statement said.

It takes control over a fleet of 121 Air India aircraft and 25 planes of its subsidiary Air India Express, which operates low-cost flights to more than 30 destinations in India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

As part of its economic reform agenda, the Modi government has pledged to sell more than a dozen loss-making government-run companies. An initial sale attempt by the government in 2018 failed to attract any bidders for Air India.

The Tata group is a sprawling collection of nearly 100 companies that includes the country’s largest automaker, the largest private steel company and a leading outsourcing firm. The companies employ more than 350,000 people around the world. Tata bought Jaguar and Land Rover for $2.3 billion from Ford in June 2008.

Tata also runs a budget airline, Air Asia India, in cooperation with Malaysian carrier Air Asia Berhad, and a full-service carrier, Vistara, with Singapore Airlines.

Air India serves 101 destinations including 57 domestic routes and has flights to 33 countries on four continents.