Gref and Kostin set their sights on Utair

Banks want to pick up the carrier for the project of a regional airline. Utair has heavy debts, and Sberbank is its largest creditor.
Sberbank and VTB, on the instructions of the President and the government, are developing a project for the airline for the development of regional transportation; for this, both existing and newly created airlines can be used. An option is being considered to take Utair for this project by converting the debt to Sberbank into shares, told Vedomosti three people who know about it from the staff of these state banks and a person close to the management of Utair. But it is possible to use Utair in the project without obtaining a share in it, but simply concluding an agreement on transportation, say two interlocutors of “Vedomosti”. The last option would be more transparent. The carrier for the project could then be selected by competition, there are other applicants besides Utair, they explain.

“Banks are considering various options, the model is still being worked out, so it’s premature to comment on any details,” a representative of VTB said. His colleagues from Sberbank and Utair declined to comment. Specific proposals from banks to participate in a regional project in any form have not yet been, specifies a person close to Utair.

The option to “pick up” Utair arose because it has huge debts, primarily to Sberbank. The airline is unlikely to pay, something needs to be done with it, one of the Vedomosti interlocutors reports, the position of the bankers. In addition, the Ministry of Transport at a recent meeting on debts Utair said that there is an indication of the president not to bankrupt the airline, said the meeting participant.

Sberbank and VTB would prefer partnerships with a future regional carrier - developing a business model, lending, leasing, but if you need and there is an indication from above, they will also become shareholders, said another interviewee. At the same time, creating an airline from scratch means large non-returnable losses: you need to contract at least three aircraft, hire crews (5–6 each) and flight attendants for them and only then submit an application to the Aviation Aviation Authority for the certificate of the operator, the review can take from six months, he adds .

Utair is the fourth largest airline in Russia after the Aeroflot group, S7 and Ural Airlines, in 2018 it carried 7.9 million passengers. The carrier’s fleet includes 50 Boeing main vessels and 15 regional ATR-72.

Utair owes 11 banks on two syndicated loans of 38.6 billion rubles. Of these, almost a third is in Sberbank. The other two largest participants in the syndicate are Trust banks (about 35%) and Russia (about 20%). The State Bank issued a loan to the company and directly - by 17.4 billion rubles. Sberbank, therefore, accounts for about 30 billion rubles, over half of the airline’s bank debt. All loans were issued in 2015. VTB is not included in the number of lenders.

Repayment of loans should begin in 2020, before Utair only need to pay interest. But on December 20, 2018, it defaulted, without transferring about 1 billion rubles to creditors. on one of the syndicated loans. These funds are necessary for operating activities, explained the airline. She also asked the syndicate to restructure both loans. The representative of "Trust" declined to comment, "Russia" - did not respond to the request of "Vedomosti". The lenders were not informed about the option of transferring Utair to Sberbank, the employee of the creditor bank said.

The largest shareholders of Utair are the AK-Invest company (50.1%), the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug (38.8%) and the Tyumen Oblast (8.4%) created by the structures of Surgutneftegaz. Representatives of Surgutneftegaz and regional governments did not respond to requests from Vedomosti.

“It is possible to convert the debt to Sberbank into shares due to the additional issue of Utair. This decision should be approved by a simple majority of shareholders, ”said Irina Mostovaya, a partner of the law firm“ NAFCO-Consultants ”. - So the conversion is quite a feasible procedure, if major shareholders are in favor. This would seriously support the airline, reducing its debt, adds Pavement.

“Utair would be an ideal platform for a regional airline: it is the most experienced regional operator in Russia, the only one able to work on low-intensity routes and very important for ensuring transport accessibility in Western Siberia,” says Boris Rybak, general director of Infomost consulting company. If Sberbank agrees with other shareholders and significantly reduces the debt of Utair, then a very high-quality regional project can turn out, he adds.