Indian airlines risk consolidation, plane repossessions amid Covid surge


Reuters

India's airlines are under renewed pressure to raise cash or face the risk of having to downsize, consolidate or have their planes repossessed by lessors as a surge of COVID-19 infections roils travel.

Passenger traffic fell nearly 30% in April from a month before and has halved again so far in May, forcing even the country's biggest and most cashed-up carrier, IndiGo, to gear up for the storm.

IndiGo's parent, Interglobe Aviation (INGL.NS), will meet on Friday to consider an equity raising, just months after it abandoned plans to raise up to 40 billion rupees ($543 million) in January due to a speedy recovery in travel.

With traffic plummeting, according to aviation ministry data, IndiGo's cash burn is expected to rise to $3.4 million a day - a level last seen in September - from $2 million a day at the end of 2020, said an analyst who tracks the company.

This means IndiGo, which has more than a 50% share of the market, may look to raise $543 million to $679 million amounting to at least two quarters of cash burn, said the analyst, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly.

While IndiGo is seen as a survivor, the situation is far worse for a suite of smaller carriers, particularly those without large backers, some of which were already struggling before the coronavirus hit, say analysts.

"India hasn't provided much government assistance or support so the private airlines will need to turn to the private sector," said independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie.

The cash call comes as Indian carriers are expected to report total losses of $4-$4.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended on March 31 and will lose a similar amount this year, aviation consultancy CAPA India said in a note this week.

With more people losing loved ones and the outlook on the economy, jobs and incomes turning down, a recovery in domestic travel, which had been expected by the end of 2021, may not come until at least the first quarter of 2022, analysts estimate.

To make matters worse, several countries including the United States and Britain with whom India has had bilateral arrangements to operate charter flights have restricted arrivals due to high infection rates.

The charters offered a lucrative revenue stream for local carriers after the Indian government shut down regular international flights when the pandemic hit. A recovery in international traffic to pre-COVID levels is expected only by 2024, according to CAPA.