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Air India employees bid to take control over cash-strapped national airline

Air India employees bid to take control over cash-strapped national airline
A number of bids have been put forward for India's struggling flag carrier Air India, including one on behalf of its employees who want a controlling stake in the airline.

A group of Air India employees submitted a bid to purchase 51 percent of the struggling state-owned carrier. Each employee will have to contribute at least 100,000 rupees ($1,360) toward the bid, according to Air India’s commercial director, Meenakshi Malik. The remaining 49 percent will be held by a financial partner, she said.

“We always believed Air India can be a profitable set up," said Malik, adding, “The government has removed a huge part of the debt, so we thought who better than us? We know the airline inside out; we know where the problems are. We’re not bidding to win or lose; we’re doing it because we believe we can run the airline well.”

Another bid was reported to have been put forward by the Tata Group, which originally founded the airline about 90 years ago. Tata, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, sold its stake to the Indian government in the 1950s.

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Air India has been on sale since 2017 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet signed off on a plan to sell all or part of the debt-ridden carrier. Despite the attempts to offload its stake, the government has failed to attract a single bid.

The airline has been unprofitable since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines and has relied on taxpayer money to keep flying. The company’s debt totals more than $8 billion.

Air India, which started as Tata Airlines in 1932 and later became state-owned, has been losing money for more than a decade. The company, which was once known as the ‘Maharaja of the skies’, has lost market share to low-cost rivals in one of the world's fastest-growing but most competitive airline markets. The airline employs almost 10,000 workers.

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