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Jet wins key approval for Etihad deal, with conditions

NEW DELHI, Jul 29, 2013, (Reuters) -
Jet wins key approval for Etihad deal, with conditions. Reuters Image

The foreign investment regulator gave conditional approval on Monday to a $379 million deal by Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways to buy a stake in Jet Airways(JET.NS), paving the way for more acquisitions in the domestic aviation sector.

"We have approved with some conditions," Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram told reporters after a meeting of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).

He did not elaborate.

Etihad's purchase of 24 percent of Jet is the first such deal since the government allowed foreign airlines to own up to 49 percent of Indian carriers last September.

It bodes well for more foreign investment into the Indian aviation sector where most carriers are burdened with heavy debts and rack up losses mainly due to the high cost of fuel.

For foreign investors, buying a stake in an Indian carrier grants access to one of the world's fastest growing domestic airline markets which has plenty of untapped potential, especially in services to smaller Indian cities.

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet (SPJT.BO) has received interest from various unidentified potential investors, while fellow budget airlines GoAir and IndiGo have also been identified as potential targets.

The Jet-Etihad deal still has to obtain the approval of the capital markets regulator as well as a ministerial investment panel before the airlines can proceed.

The deal provides Jet with a deep-pocketed global partner as well as cash to help pay off debts. Etihad, which is on an acquisitions drive, will benefit from Jet's Indian connections.

Ahead of Monday's announcement, Jet shares had jumped nearly 3.7 percent, taking their gains in the last two sessions to nearly 22 percent on speculation the deal would be approved.

EFFECTIVE CONTROL

Last month, the FIPB had said it wanted more details on who would be effectively in control of Jet Airways after the deal before making a decision.

The deal won regulatory approval after a revised shareholder agreement decreased Etihad's presence on the board of Jet, according to a document seen by Reuters, addressing government concerns that the Abu Dhabi carrier appeared to be taking control of the Indian airline.

Etihad will now take two seats on the board, which will have up to 12 members, one less than initially planned.

Jet's founder group will appoint four board members and will have the right to nominate the chairman, whereas Etihad will appoint a vice chairman, according to the document.

Opposition politicians have opposed the deal on grounds that a bilateral accord between India and the United Arab Emirates increasing number of seats per week favoured Etihad and also on security concerns.


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