Carlyle Weighs Rival Offer for Gates-Backed Signature Aviation

Carlyle Group Inc. is considering a potential offer for Signature Aviation Plc, a move that could trigger a bidding war for the world’s biggest operator of private jet bases.

The private equity firm is working with Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley, said people familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

In a statement, London-listed Signature Aviation confirmed the approach and set Feb. 4 as a deadline for a firm offer. Carlyle’s interest, reported earlier by Sky News, follows a $4.3 billion expression of interest from Blackstone Group Inc.

Signature Aviation said in December that it would accept Blackstone’s $5.17 a share approach if the U.S. buyout firm made a formal bid. A lower bid from Global Infrastructure Partners was rejected earlier.

Shares of Signature Aviation jumped 4.5% to 417.90 pence in London on Thursday, giving it a market value of about $4.7 billion -- suggesting investors expect the competition to lead to a higher sale price.

The company, whose No. 1 shareholder is Bill Gates, has set a Jan. 14 deadline for formal proposals from the two earlier suitors. GIP said on Dec. 22 that it was weighing whether to make an offer.

Representatives for Carlyle didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, while Bank of America and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

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