Aviation executive Ian Woodley is understood to be engaged in talks to buy Aer Lingus Regional operator Stobart Air.
Mr Woodley was previously involved in regional carrier BMI. He was an investor in the consortium that acquired the operator from Aer Lingus owner IAG in 2012 and served as chairman until 2014.
The Irish Independent understands that Andy Jolly, the managing director of Dublin-based Stobart Air, is also involved in the acquisition talks alongside Mr Woodley.
A UK-based boutique private equity house is thought to be lined up to provide financing for a deal.
Mr Jolly was chief operating officer at Loganair between 2007 and 2011. He served in the same role at Stobart Air from 2015 before being appointed its managing director in 2019.
Stobart Air’s owner, Esken, has pledged to have sold Dublin-based Stobart Air by the end of this week.
Esken recently told the Irish Independent that its timetable for a divestment has not changed.
The group declined to comment yesterday in relation to talks with Mr Woodley.
Mr Woodley could not be reached for comment.
Esken, which recently changed its name from Stobart Group, has been vying to offload Stobart Air since last year.
It’s had talks with potential suitors including UK-based aircraft leasing firm Falko, which also owns Dublin-based carrier CityJet.
Esken, whose out-going CEO is Warwick Brady, has been keen to sell Stobart Air due to significant liabilities it has attached to the carrier.
Stobart Air lost out late last year as Conor McCarthy’s fledgling Emerald Airlines was named preferred bidder by Aer Lingus to operate the Aer Lingus Regional service from the end of 2022, when the current Stobart Air contract expires.
That almost certainly made the Stobart Air sales process more challenging.
Like other airlines, Stobart Air has been hit hard by the pandemic and continued operating two taxpayer funded public service obligation routes here during the crisis.
However, it has also established a base at Belfast City Airport, flying routes to Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and Exeter. The carrier has based five aircraft at the airport.
It’s likely that if Stobart Air is sold, those intra-UK operations will become its key future focus.
Stobart Air has a fleet of 15 ATR turboprop aircraft and before the pandemic hit was operating about two dozen routes.
Esken raised £100m (€115.7m) from investors in June last year to shore up its balance sheet. Some of the funds were earmarked to help Stobart Air.
Last November, Esken said that Stobart Air and a related aircraft leasing firm, Propius, had burned through almost £15m (€17.3m) in cash since they were reacquired by Eksen the previous April.
“The trading outlook for Stobart Air has deteriorated significantly since the capital raise due to the continued quarantine arrangements in Ireland, with limited flights operating,” noted Esken in November.