Tata Sons won the bid to acquire debt-ridden national airline Air India for Rs 18,000 crore, the Centre announced on Friday.

The salt-to-software conglomerate regained control of Air India nearly 70 years after its nationalisation. Air India was founded in 1932 as Tata Airlines by family scion and aviation enthusiast Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata.

“The transaction does not include non-core assets including land and building, valued at Rs 14,718 crore, which are to be transferred to GoI’s [Government of India] Air India Asset Holding Limited,” the government said.

Tuhin Pandey, the secretary of the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management, said at a press briefing that as of August 31 this year, Air India had accumulated a debt of Rs 61,562 crores.

“The debt which will be taken by the successful bidder will be Rs 15,300 crores,” he added, according to ANI. “Debt position after debt taken over by the successful bidder will remain Rs 46,262 crores.”

The Centre will receive Rs 2,700 crore from the national carrier’s sale.

The government said that Tata Sons will retain all Air India employees for one year. “If after a year they are to be removed, they will be offered a voluntary retirement scheme,” Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal said.

Minister of Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia said the process of divesting from the airline had been rigorous, NDTV reported. “An airline that has been bleeding Rs 20 crore a day and Rs 7,500 crore a year over the last few years...this disinvestment process has been extremely thorough, extremely rigorous, and has resulted in a landmark outcome,” Scindia told the news channel.

Tata Sons Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata also welcomed the development.

“The Tata Group winning the bid for Air India is great news,” he said in statement shared on Twitter. “While admittedly it will take considerable effort to rebuild Air India, it will hopefully provide a very strong market opportunity to the Tata group’s presence in the aviation industry.”

Tata Sons Chairperson Natarajan Chandrasekaran described the development as a historic moment.

“It will be a rare privilege for our Group to own and operate the country’s flag bearer airline,” he said. “It will be our endeavour to build a world-class airline which makes every Indian proud.”

The Boeing pilots union of Air India said it was happy to hear that the Tata Group will take over Air India. “We look forward to giving this company our best,” it said.

The government had been seeking to sell 100% of its stake in Air India.

In March, Hardeep Puri, who was then the civil aviation minister, had said that Air India had accumulated a debt of Rs 60,000 crore and the choice was between disinvesting from the airline or shutting it down.

In April, the government had started inviting financial bids for Air India. September 15 was the last date for submitting the bids.

Also read: How the government took Air India from JRD Tata, asked him to run it, and then took it away again