Jet Airways' payment delays draw lessor ire

The airline had told lessors it would clear arrears by December 31, but was unable do so

By Reuters in Singapore and New Delhi
  • Published 12.01.19, 1:21 AM
  • Updated 12.01.19, 1:21 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Jet controls over a sixth of a market experiencing an unprecedented boom in air travel. Yet high fuel taxes, a weak rupee and price competition have squeezed profitability, leaving Jet with $1.14 billion in net debt at the end of September and defaulting on payments. iStock

Crisis talks between cash-strapped Jet Airways Ltd and aircraft lessors have failed to ease a row over late payments, prompting some lessors to explore taking back the aircraft, three people familiar with the matter said.

In what one of the sources described as an ill-tempered showdown between the airline and some of the world’s leading leasing firms, Jet’s main lender, the State Bank of India, sought to provide reassurance that the full-service carrier was doing all it can to pay its staff, suppliers and creditors.

“Jet has been delinquent for many months. Nobody wants to get into a situation where the problems worsen and it becomes even more difficult to take out aircraft,” one of the people said.

Jet controls over a sixth of a market experiencing an unprecedented boom in air travel. Yet high fuel taxes, a weak rupee and price competition have squeezed profitability, leaving Jet with $1.14 billion in net debt at the end of September and defaulting on payments.

The airline had previously told some lessors that it would clear arrears by December 31, but was unable do so, the people close to the matter said.

At meetings on Tuesday, held at the SBI’s headquarters in Mumbai, the bank’s chairman Rajnish Kumar was asked how Jet planned to raise equity or debt, said one of the sources, who found the responses lacked sufficient details.

Other attendees included Jet’s management team, including the airline’s founder and chairman Naresh Goyal, as well as a senior adviser of Etihad Airways, which owns 24 per cent of Jet and which did not provide any assurances, the source said.

An official from Punjab National Bank later said lenders have “in-principle” agreed to extend some help to Jet, but details on the mechanics of it are still being worked out.

Some lessors have engaged with lawyers and are working with their technical teams about repossession, but the situation could be complicated by the new bankruptcy law that allows up to 270 days where no action is permitted against the debtor or its assets, the person said.

Lessors such as GE Capital Aviation Services, SMBC Aviation Capital and Jackson Square are looking to stop the transfer of Boeing Co 737 MAX jets that had been due for delivery to Jet, the person said.

A second person said deliveries of 737 MAX jets from lessors had been behind schedule since November.

Avolon, DAE Aerospace, BOC Aviation Ltd and Aircastle Ltd also attended the meetings along with GECAS and SMBC, one of the sources said, declining to specify which are considering reclaiming planes.

Jet Airways, in a statement on Friday, said the airline was working on its turnaround strategy and updating its partners, in real time, on efforts taken to improve its liquidity.