India's aviation space - which often resembles a scene from the theater of the absurd got a bit more confounding last few weeks when Spicejet chairman and managing director Ajay Singh and Busy Bee Airways chief Nishant Pitti (the force behind EaseMy Trip) submitted a joint bid in their personal capacity for somewhere between ₹1,600 crore (as mentioned by one report) to ₹7,000 crore (claimed by another report) - depending on which news platform you read - to rescue and revive Go First, which filed for bankruptcy in May 2023. A set of resolution professionals has been scouting for possible suitors for the airline since.

The aviation industry was foxed. All this while, everyone was under the impression that Singh was running from pillar to post trying to keep his struggling ship SpiceJet - where he has recently infused funds from external investors - afloat. How in the midst of this would he find the money, time, energy, bandwidth or aspiration to take on the headache of reviving a rival airline even if he and his new business partner Pitti have cobbled together the money in their personal capacity? Moreover, the bigger question that arises in this whole drama is how does SpiceJet gain if its present CMD begins to focus on reviving a defunct low fare rival? Doesn't that work against the interests of the airline he's currently spearheading?

A release issued by the company argues that Spicejet would be an "operating partner" - whatever that means -  and would provide "essential staff, services, and industry expertise." It further adds that this collaboration is anticipated to generate synergies between the two carriers, leading to "improved cost management, revenue growth, and a strengthened market position within the Indian aviation industry."

Here many questions arise. Improved cost management for whom and how exactly? Revenue growth for which airline? And which of the two will have a strengthened market position? How would lending SpiceJet's resources to revive Go First help the former? Further, what kind of synergies can arise when SpiceJet has a Boeing fleet while all Go First aircraft are Airbus? As a former SpiceJet management member says, the only synergies he sees between the two carriers at present are in grounded planes, vendor dues, unpaid bills and court cases!

The SpiceJet release argues that the two airlines would coordinate route planning: Won't Go First planes - there's a big question mark of how many of the existing fleet of 54 are in a shape to actually fly - utilise Go First's existing slots and actually end up in competition with SpiceJet on certain routes as in the past? And if this is all being done in Spicejet's interest, what's in it for Busy Bee's Pitti?

Even as this article goes to press, a conspiracy theory was doing the rounds, which went something like this: the two savvy businessman got together as they spotted a hidden value in the assets of Go First - which everyone else including the savvy Wadias or the resolution professionals hired by EY - had failed to see. This theory says that the two would claim compensation from an arbitration the airline had won against P&W, monetise a certain land parcel Go First apparently owns and make a killing from the time slots and aircraft Go First still possesses.

Here again many questions arise. Most of the industry agrees that there is substantial value in the flying slots and timings and parking spots the airline still retains across airports. But what beyond? The airline has 54 grounded aircraft as per the DGCA data but many of these are unlikely to be serviceable or operational as P&W-related engine troubles persist. If indeed Go First still retains so much value, why wouldn't Nusli Wadia and Co.-famed for their business acumen and canny - have realised or extracted it before declaring bankruptcy? Why won't some other equally savvy businessmen have spotted it and bid as well? Also, doesn't the fact that IndiGo with deeper pockets than most others and an actual fleet commonality not evincing any interest have a story to tell? Repeated attempts by Fortune India to seek answers on many of these questions and clarity on the Go First revival proposal and plan from SpiceJet and chairman Ajay Singh failed to elicit any response.

Aviation industry insiders and observers also point to history to argue that this move by SpiceJet seems suicidal. They argue that Jet Airways' decline began after it made the fatal error of buying Sahara. Many believe that was one of the first nails in its coffin. Similarly, many aviation industry CEOs and senior management argue that Kingfisher Airline's hasty buy of Air Deccan back in 2007 was one of the reasons things spiralled out of control for KFA. In general, in the past even when perfectly well run and healthy incumbents have taken such risks, it has not worked to their advantage. In this case, SpiceJet is itself in a precarious position so it remains unclear how this operating partnership would help. Other than all the airline's financial woes, it still remains mired in court cases. More recently, the Supreme Court asked Singh a valid question: how did he have the money to buy Go First but not to pay Credit Suisse a small sum of $1.25 million as directed by the court by a certain date!

Like lots of other similar stories in India's chaotic business landscape, readers must note that this one too remains swamped in conjecture. So far, the only certainty in this curious saga is the fact that the Singh-Pitti combine has bid to rescue the now defunct Go First. If there is some method behind this madness, it is not yet visible to the wide-eyed public. Mystified readers - and the sector - should watch this space. 

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