A group of 209 employees is preparing a bid for Air India (AI, Mumbai Int'l) in a partnership with an unnamed equity fund, IANS news agency has reported.

Commercial Director Meenakshi Mallik leads the group of employees. According to a leaked internal memo, each of the 209 participating staff members will be asked to contribute up to INR100,000 rupees (USD1,355) with the financial partner providing the bid's balance. The total value of the bid was not disclosed. The financing structure details are to be revealed once the consortium is approved in the first stage of bidding.

"Financially, I know that we do not have the necessary wherewithal to participate in this bid process alone. We have accordingly searched out for and sought to secure the support of a private equity fund who will invest in the company with us and share the benefit," Mallik said.

If successful, the employees would collectively own a 51% stake in the carrier with the fund owning the remaining 49% of shares.

Mallik underlined that no financial contributions from staff members would be collected unless the bid is approved.

Following multiple postponements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian government set the deadline for bids for the debt-ridden flag carrier for December 14, 2020. Investors will be able to wholly-own Air India. While no confirmed bids have been placed yet, Tata Sons has expressed a preliminary interest in regaining Air India's ownership.

Currently, the carrier is wholly state-owned.

After the news of the potential staff bid broke, two pilot unions, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (IPCA) and the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) issued a public appeal to their members not to participate in the process due to disagreements over salaries.

"All pilots are advised not to acknowledge or participate in the process initiated by the management official till the disproportionate 70% pay cut for pilots vis-à-vis Air India’s top management officials (10%) is addressed. Also, there is no clarity on the payment of the illegally withheld 25% arrears due to the pilots to date," the unions said in a letter quoted by The Hindustan Times.