Go First’s Insolvency Tests India’s Bankruptcy Regime

Go First, an Indian low-cost airline, collapsed in May under the weight of four years of losses, citations for safety lapses and operating confusion that, in January, resulted in a flight from Bangalore to Delhi carrying baggage but forgetting a third of its passengers. At least the carrier held valuable assets in the form of 45 or so aircraft stranded at Indian airports. And, as a high-priority case, it was supposedly subject to expedited bankruptcy hearings, according to The Economist. A prompt liquidation and redeployment of assets has obvious benefits for the aviation industry, its creditors and, possibly, for rivals keen to snap up its planes to add capacity in response to packed flights. Not so fast, the court hearing Go First’s case now appears to be saying. Rather than allow easily identifiable assets like the company’s aeroplanes to be reclaimed while more complicated financial ones are unwound, it has placed a blanket hold on all the airline’s assets. The Go First roadblocks are indicative of longstanding problems with bankruptcy in India. These were meant to be solved by a new insolvency code introduced in 2016. That code’s provisions shifted power from indebted companies, protected by a morass of earlier rules, to their creditors. It allowed some interminable bankruptcy proceedings at last to come to an end, for example forcing the sale of Essar Steel, an industrial giant which had been in default to various creditors as far back as 2002. A smooth journey through the court system was meant to send a bigger message—that the risk of lending to Indian businesses could be mitigated by ensuring that collateral is readily transferable. This, the argument went, would help reduce borrowing costs for corporate India more broadly. Read more.