For a few billion dollars more



A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there: it is hard to keep up with all the deals from investors targeting business aviation.

First, we saw the $4.6bn offers for Signature Aviation – which meant that Macquarie Infrastructure would also dust off the sales sheet for rival FBO chain Atlantic Aviation, which it acquired in 2004.

On Tuesday, Reuters said that Wheels Up is next. On Monday the news agency reported that the company was in talks with a Special Acquisition Company (SPAC) called Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle Corp.

Wheels Up does not comment on rumours, but it is not a huge surprise. At CJI Americas 2020, Kenny Dichter, founder of Wheels Up said that it has been approached by other SPACs and he has already used lots of CNBC appearances to educate potential investors.

If it does happen, the acquisition is likely to close after helicopter booking platform Blade goes public. Blade is being acquired by a SPAC launched by KSL Capital partners. KSL already has good knowledge of business aviation – it is also an investor in FBO chain Ross Aviation. Ross Aviation and Blade have already announced that they will work together.

Ross Aviation was founded by Jeffrey Ross after he sold a chain of 20 FBOs to Landmark in 2014. He bought six FBOs from Signature when it acquired BBA in 2016.

Private equity firms like to talk about their ’investment thesis’ (and it does sound better than saying hunch.) We are all familiar with the one for business aviation now – new individual flyers finding the industry and getting hooked. Which hopefully will add to strong demand when business travel returns.

VistaJet helped all three companies by announcing strong results to back this thesis. The international operator says it grew its subscription programme by 29% and saw 15% more on-demand bookings. Europe accounted for 46% of its total flights with North America 26%. It says membership of XO (which it acquired in 2018) grew by 240%.

This follows on from similarly strong results from Flexjet, Sentient, Wheels Up, Jet Edge and others in 2021. They may be rivals but every positive announcement they make helps competitors and suppliers raise more.

Talking about billions, today is also a big day for Bombardier, which has sold its rail business for $3.6bn to Alstom (this includes about $600m in Alstom shares). This is less than it originally hoped for but still a great result and will allow it to repay much of its $4.7bn debt.

We could easily see $10bn of new equity investment into business aviation before the summer. As the saying goes, a billion here and a billion there and soon you are talking about fairly significant amounts.

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