The very private Gama Aviation


There is always a lot of celebration when companies float on a stock market. Marwan Khalek, CEO and co-founder, Gama Aviation is more excited about taking his company private again.

Gama Aviation went public in 2014 when it acquired Hangar8 which was already listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market. In theory, the reverse takeover gave the company access to more capital for acquisitions. At the time, Gama Aviation was managing all of Wheels Up’s King Air flights and the merged company had almost 150 aircraft under management. (It later sold its share of its US aircraft management business to Wheels Up.)

Many listed company CEOs believe that the market does not truly understand or value their business. But Khalek was able to prove this last year when Gama Aviation sold Jet East, its fast-growing US maintenance business. Jet East made up a third of Gama Aviation. At the time Gama Aviation had a market capitalisation of about £60m.

In November Gama Aviation sold West Star for $131m (netting $100m). Steve Maiden, who led the fast growth of Jet East, was this week appointed CEO of West Star.

Some of the cash from this sale has been used to take Gama Aviation private. Perhaps surprisingly a significant number of investors have chosen to keep their shares even though they are no longer easily tradable. One high-profile UK investor bought 2% of Gama Aviation after the de-listing was announced. 

Khalek is excited to be back running a private company. He estimates that between 25% and 40% of his work life has been taken up by the demands of being listed.  Now freed up, he wants to grow Gama Aviation. “I am not sure everyone in the business is as excited that I will have more time,” he jokes.

Gama Aviation is looking to grow its FBO business. It has just completed a parking apron at Sharjah Airport, near Dubai, and is now starting on a new 14,000 sqm hangar and FBO due to open next year. The company is working through planning for its Jersey FBO in the Channel Islands. 

It has also hired Graham Williamson, formerly of ACASS Europe and TAG Aviation, to grow its aircraft management business. Williamson, who has been a competitor of Gama Aviation for many years, likes growing companies. He was at Emirates Airlines when it had three aircraft.

“It is exciting when you are growing and the opportunity for Gama Aviation is huge,” says Williamson.

Gama Aviation is in talks to buy Austrian operator Tyrolean Jet Services (one of its last stock exchange announcements was on this deal). Tyrolean Jet Services was the first Austrian business jet operator.

“We want to create bespoke operations in different locations like Four Seasons does with hotels”

“We want to create bespoke operations in different locations like Four Seasons does with hotels,” says Williamson. “We want to develop local presence in combination with our engine room in Farnborough. We want to provide great service, great product and be more focused on small numbers of highly bespoke clients.”

Khalek says it is not about trying to build one global operator. “One of the reasons that consolidation is tough is that aircraft management is a very personal business. You don’t want to grow into a big monster chain, you want guests to feel that they are staying at a boutique hotel where everyone knows their name.”

It is looking to build a series of small management companies – with no more than 25 aircraft – with local management. Gama Aviation believes that it can get economies of scale in back-office functions like finance, trip planning, maintenance and purchasing. Khalek adds another simile: “It is like a Michelin Star restaurant – you want a unique maitre d’ but the kitchen needs to be producing a consistently strong product.”

Khalek never hid his frustrations with running a public company (including to the Wheels Up team before they floated). He is clearly excited about the freedom the business now has. “We have all been weighed down with regulatory issues, things like Brexit, Covid, supply chain issues and others,” he says. “We need to shake ourselves out of this and go back to why people go into this industry. People do it because they love it and they are passionate about it. We need to remember how enjoyable this industry is.”





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