Sunday 25 March 2018

NetJets backed chopper firm HQ based in Dublin

John Mulligan

An aircraft finance firm backed by the founder of private jet firm NetJets and $500m (€380m) of private equity has established its headquarters in Dublin and expects to have about 40 people based there within a couple of years.

Milestone Aviation will primarily focus on acquiring helicopters that will then be used by clients such as those providing services to oil and gas rigs or search and rescue. Many firms providing such services can't easily secure capital to expand and sustain their flying operations.

The chief executive of the new company, Bill Kelly, was formerly the head of NetJets' European operations. He told the Irish Independent yesterday that Milestone wasn't aiming for the types of helicopters that might have been used to ferry property developers to the Galway Races, but what he described as "working helicopters". Among the makes it is likely to purchase include those by Eurocopter, which are in use by the Garda Air Support Unit, and Sikorsky, whose helicopters are used in Ireland for search and rescue services.

Mr Kelly said he expects 80pc of Milestone's business to be focused on helicopters and added that the company expects to seal a deal to make its first purchase of a number of new helicopters within four to six weeks.

He said the demand for helicopters had not diminished significantly during downturns in various markets, although he acknowledged that the VIP sector had been hit. Mr Kelly said Milestone would be targeting helicopter activities that were "not subject to the vagaries of economic fluctuations".

The Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea would provide opportunities, but Mr Kelly, who is a law graduate from Trinity College, Dublin, said that South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia were also likely to provide for growth in the market.

Private equity

The $500m of private equity was secured from US firm Jordan Company and also from Nautic Partners.

Mr Kelly said the next logical step for Milestone would be to obtain debt facilities, but declined to say when the company would seek them or how much might be sought.

Milestone's chairman is Richard Santulli, a former Goldman Sachs executive who acquired an existing jet leasing firm in 1984 and transformed it into NetJets.

The aviation firm, which enabled clients to take fractional ownership of private jets, became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company founded by Warren Buffett, in 1998. Mr Santulli stepped down as head of NetJets last year.

Irish Independent

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