India’s government has invited shortlisted entities to submit financial bids to acquire Air India (AI, Mumbai Int'l), local media reported, and the interested bidders have been given access to a “virtual data room” with full access to the heavily indebted flag carrier’s accounts.

“The request for proposal for financial bids for the Air India sale has been issued. A share purchase agreement for the Air India deal is likely to have been shared with the interested entities,” a source told the financial news channel CNBC TV18.

The shortlisted bidders - understood to be the conglomerate Tata Sons and SpiceJet (SG, Delhi Int'l) owner Ajay Singh - may be given until early July to submit their financial bids, after which an evaluation process may take three to four months so that completion is unlikely before September, the channel reported.

The privatisation, which includes 100% of loss-making Air India and its Air India Express (IX, Mumbai Int'l) subsidiary as well as a 50% stake in groundhandler Air India Airport Services, has encountered repeated delays which the government has blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic. The deadline to submit preliminary bids for the airline was extended on five separate occasions before finally passing on December 14.

Buying Air India will also give the successful bidder control of 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international takeoff and landing slots at domestic airports, as well as 900 slots at airports overseas, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The potential suitors have been given the freedom to decide how much of the company’s debt they want to take on as part of the transaction. In previous failed privatisation attempts, they were required to take on the entire debt pile, which has been estimated at more than INR600,740,000,000 rupees (USD7,992,750,000).