Air India planes on the tarmac. Photo: AFP

The Indian government officially handed over airline Air India to the Tata Group on Thursday after it was in government hands for almost 69 years.

The salt-to-software conglomerate’s holding company Talace Private Limited won the competitive bidding process set by the government on October 8 last year by offering 180 billion rupees for the airline.

According to the sale terms, Tata will accept Air India’s debt of 153 billion rupees and pay the government 27 billion to complete the purchase. The government says it has received the payment and the sale process has been completed.

In a communique sent to Air India’s employees, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran said: “I have learned that to preserve what is best about the past, requires constant change. It is by evolving, adapting and embracing the future that we best honor a glorious history.

“The entire nation’s eyes are on us, waiting to see what we will achieve together,” he noted, adding: “To build the airline our country needs, we need to look to the future.”

Earlier, Chandrasekaran told reporters: “We are totally delighted that the takeover process of Air India is complete. We are very happy to have Air India back in the Tata Group. We look forward to working with everyone to create a world-class airline.”

Air India was started by the Tata Group in 1932. However, after the country had its independence, the airline was nationalized in 1953 by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“From the day of the announcement (October 8, 2021), one word has been on everyone’s lips: homecoming,” Chandrasekaran noted.

With this acquisition, Tata Group will have access to a fleet of 117 wide-body aircraft and 24 narrow-body aircraft. It will get control of 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international landing and parking slots.

However, it must be noted that the salt-to-software conglomerate is now running two joint-venture airlines – AirAsia India and Vistara. The company is yet to reveal its future action plan with Air India. Will it remain a standalone airline or will it be merged with the existing ones?

Meanwhile, a consortium of lenders led by the State Bank of India has agreed to provide loans to Tata Group for the smooth operations of loss-making Air India. The SBI-led consortium had agreed to grant both term loans and working capital loans, depending on the airline’s requirements, Press Trust of India reports.

All large lenders, including Punjab National Bank, Bank of Baroda and Union Bank of India, are part of the consortium.