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Top funds vie for Air Sahara pie

New Delhi, Nov. 8: Global equity investors Blackstone, Temasek Holdings and Carlyn are leading a pack of eight firms which have offered to buy into Air Sahara.

The US-based Blackstone recently registered with Sebi, while Singapore’s Temasek Holdings has already picked up a slice of SpiceJet’s equity.

Sahara sources said the three equity funds would be shortlisted for final talks. The Delhi-based carrier intends to sell 15 to 24 per cent of its equity.

Air Sahara president Rono Dutta confirmed that eight firms have made offers and that two to three would be shortlisted. He refused to name them, citing confidentiality clauses.

“We are considering all offers at present... Our plan is to work with private equity participation, but at this moment, we are considering all offers we have received, including those from other airlines,” Dutta said. In all, Air Sahara will try raise $100 million and utilise the money to leverage more funds for a fleet expansion drive.

The airline, which wants to raise its fleet to 65 over the next five years, wants to bring in about 15 narrow-bodied aircraft over the next one-and-a-half years, besides leasing five wide-bodied ones.

The minority stake sale comes after weeks of intense speculation over a possible change of ownership at Air Sahara. The aviation industry has been abuzz with stories about how Jet, Kingfisher and later SpiceJet were making attempts to buy control of Air Sahara ' some even using politicians as intermediaries ' since July.

However, Sahara has consistently rubbished these rumours, contending that it was only selling a small stake and not controlling equity to a partner.

Kingfisher even confirmed that it was keen to buy into Air Sahara, even as a minority shareholder. SpiceJet said it had been interested at one time but would not bid for a minority stake.

Meanwhile, Dutta and US carrier American Airlines' senior vice-president (planning) Henry C. Joyner today signed a travel-award contract to allow members of both airlines' frequent-flyer programmes earn 7,500 bonus miles on economy and 15,000 miles for higher class travel on the Delhi-Chicago route.

The two have entered into a codeshare agreement for a non-stop service to the US from November 15.

Both Dutta and Joyner said the code-share service would provide the passenger “very good travel opportunity” between 22 Indian cities and 125 American hotspots through their respective networks. No airline offered such a facility.

This service will be a boon for travellers, including computer professionals and those visiting their families, to reach their destinations without stopovers in a third country.

They were replying to questions on how passengers would benefit from the Air Sahara-American Airlines non-stop Delhi-Chicago flight and the recently introduced Continental Airlines’ direct flight between Delhi and New York.

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