Blackstone, GIP Unite on $4.7 Billion Private Jet Deal

Rival bidders Blackstone Group Inc. and Global Infrastructure Partners joined together to buy Signature Aviation Plc for $4.7 billion, resolving their tussle over the world’s biggest operator of private-jet bases.

The company agreed to a sweetened $5.62-per-share bid from the two major funds and billionaire Bill Gates, currently the largest investor in the company, according to a statement on Friday.

The contest for Signature Aviation has attracted some of the world’s top financial firms. Talks stretched back to first half of 2020, after investors took note of an increased interest in private flights by wealthy travelers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gates’ Cascade Investment LLC formed an alliance with Blackstone early this year. GIP made a separate, $5.50-a-share offer on Jan. 11 that was accepted, though Signature Aviation said at the time it would keep its options open.

While Carlyle Group Inc. has also said it’s weighing a bid, “this feels like a done deal,” said Liberum analyst Gerald Khoo. “The two declared interested parties have come together, with the backing of the largest shareholder.”

Signature Aviation shares declined 2.7% to 413.7 pence as of 9:21 a.m in London, compared with the offer’s pound-equivalent of 411 pence.

The company, which offers refueling and maintenance services at airports, became a takeover candidate after the private-jet market held up better during the crisis than the commercial airline industry. Hiring their own planes has given the wealthy an opportunity to continue traveling while minimizing potentially risky contact with others.

Signature, which changed its name from BBA Aviation in late 2019, traces its origins to a Scottish industrial company founded in 1879. It’s had several names since and has focused on private aviation in recent years, selling parts distributor Ontic for $1.4 billion.

According to terms of the offer, Blackstone and GIP will each own 35% of Signature, with Gates’s Cascade holding 30%. Cascade and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation own 19% now.

The move forms a “powerful combination of private investors,” said GIP Chairman Adebayo Ogunlesi.

The bidders came together after Signature’s board received a total of six separate proposals from Blackstone and five from GIP, according to the statement. Discussions about a sale began in the first half of 2020, it said.

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