Naresh Goyal, founder and chairman of Jet Airways. Photo: AFP
Naresh Goyal, founder and chairman of Jet Airways. Photo: AFP

Naresh Goyal, the founder and chairman of India’s troubled Jet Airways, has finally called it quits after deciding to cede control to lenders.

A consortium of lenders, led by the State Bank of India, will now own a 50% stake in the airline, while Goyal’s stake will be halved to 25.5%. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways would shed its shareholding from 24% to 12%.

The Jet board decided on Monday to allot 114 million shares to the airline’s lenders upon conversion of one rupee of its outstanding 80 billion rupees (US$1.16 billion) in debt and accepted the resignation of Goyal, his wife Anita and Etihad representative Kevin Knight.

Shares of Jet Airways surged 8% in early morning trade on the Bombay Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

Board members also decided that lenders would provide 15 billion rupees ($217 million) in emergency funding to the airline and invite an expression of interest to find a new investor on April 9. The lenders hope to conclude the deal by the end of May.

Goyal has signed a binding agreement with lenders to reduce his shareholding to below 10% once a new investor comes in, but he is free to participate in the bid process.

A new chairman will be announced soon till a new investor takes charge. While it is widely believed that the new chairman will be a banker, there are reports that Air India chairman Ashwani Lohani is also in the race, Business Standard reports.

Goyal, who began as a cashier in his uncle’s travel agency, launched the airline in 1993. It soon became a dominant player and ruled the domestic skies for nearly two decades, till its reign was challenged by low-cost peers such as Indigo and SpiceJet.

Saddled with high debt and mounting losses, the airline defaulted on debt repayments leading to the resolution plan and eventual takeover by banks. Its partner Etihad was reluctant to commit more funds to Jet Airways because it has its own financial problems as well as differences with Goyal.

Firms leasing planes to Jet Airways have grounded a third of its fleet, which has crippled its operations. Pilots had also warned they would stop flying from April 1 if no resolution was achieved by the end of this month.

About 60 billion rupees ($872 million) of the airline’s total debt of 80 billion rupees is held by domestic banks. The rest is held by external financiers — HSBC and Mashreq Bank.

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