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Govt approves turnaround plan for AI

New Delhi: In a big boost to ailing Air India, the government today approved a turnaround plan (TAP) to restructure the operations and the finances of the cash- strapped carrier, including infusion of additional equity.

"The turnaround plan of Air India has been approved," Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

The CCEA approved the TAP and the airline`s financial restructuring plan (FRP), which includes additional equity infusion by the government. Besides, the issue of induction of the much-awaited Boeing Dreamliner-787, part of the TAP, was also given the green signal by the CCEA, official sources said. They said the issue of allowing foreign airlines to invest in Indian carriers could be taken up by the Cabinet next week.

As part of the airline`s restructuring plans, the government had announced infusion of Rs 4,000 crore during the current fiscal in the 2012-13 Union Budget. This would raise the airlines` equity base to Rs 7,345 crore.

US aircraft manufacturer Boeing is expected to deliver the first of the 27 Dreamliners, ordered in 2005, to the national carrier next month. The delivery of these aircraft was initailly to commence from 2009 but the US aircraft-maker deferred it for various reasons, including labour unrest.

The SBI-led consortium of 19 banks had last month approved the FRP which includes debt restructuring of Rs 18,000 crore by the banks and a committed equity infusion by the government.

The FRP would provide relief to Air India from its debt servicing obligations on working capital, in the form of a substantial reduction in interest outlays while giving it the necessary time to improve its operational efficiency and implement the TAP.

As part of the FRP, Air India had signed four agreements with the banks` consortium on March 31 – the Master Restructuring Agreement, Working Capital Facility Agreement, Appointment of Facility Agent Agreement and Appointment of Trustee Agreement.

A major highlight of the agreements included conversion of about Rs 10,500 crore of the airline`s working capital into long-term loan, carrying an annual interest of 11 per cent. "The first year interest would accumulate in a funded interest term plan," the sources said, adding these would lead to substantial savings of about Rs 1,000 crore in 2012-13 itself.

In addition, non-convertible debentures (NCDs), guaranteed by the government, worth Rs 7,400 crore, would be issued and subscribed by the investors. The proceeds from the NCDs would be used to repay the lenders, they said.

Apart from this, part of the working capital of about Rs 3,500 crore would be restructured as cash credit arrangement. Under the FRP, Air India has proposed that the government should infuse equity of about Rs 30,231 crore in the 2012-21 financial period.

The government has so far infused equity of Rs 800 crore in 2009-10, Rs 1,200 crore in 2010-11 and another Rs 1,200 crore in 2011-12. The debt-ridden carrier has outstanding loans and dues worth Rs 67,520 crore, of which Rs 21,200 crore is working capital loan, Rs 22,000 crore long-term loan on fleet acquisition, Rs 4,600 crore vendor dues besides an accumulated loss of Rs 20,320 crore.

The financial restructuring exercise began in May 2010 with SBI-Caps being appointed Financial Advisors to the transaction. The FRP is based on Air India`s overall turnaround plan aimed at providing immediate relief to the airline through provisions such as funded interest term plan, repayment moratorium of long-term loans and upfront equity infusion by the government.

The plan, formulated on the basis of projected cash flows of the company, provides a roadmap to improve the airline`s operational efficiency and put it on the road to profitability, the sources said.

The high-cost working capital debt of the national carrier stands at Rs 22,000 crore, of which the banks will restructure about Rs 18,000 crore.

Of nearly Rs 18,000 crore borrowings, Rs 10,500 crore will be converted into long-term debt with a repayment period of 10-15 years. The remaining Rs 7,400 crore will be repaid to banks through a government-guaranteed bond issue.

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