Vista Global Buys an Uber For Private Jets

(Bloomberg) -- Vista Global Holding, which competes with Warren Buffett’s NetJets in the pay-by-the-hour private plane market, agreed to buy U.S.-based JetSmarter, adding a service that sells empty seats on chartered aircraft.

While the Uber-style model will extend the group’s product offering in the $11 billion on-demand corporate flights sector, JetSmarter is mainly attractive for industry-leading digital technology and an app that’s been downloaded more than 2 million times, Dubai-based Vista said Wednesday.

“Any jet can be supplied into this marketplace and the buyers get an instant booking,” Vista founder Thomas Flohr, a Swiss billionaire, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “Anywhere in the world you can go on the JetSmarter app and you get a price and Vista Global’s execution capability.”

The purchase for an undisclosed sum will involve an equity swap making JetSmarter investors including Clearlake Capital and Jefferies Financial stakeholders in Vista Global, alongside backers including Rhone Capital.

Established in 2012, JetSmarter was valued at $1.6 billion in 2016 and said a year later that it planned to go public. Since then the Fort Lauderdale-based company has suffered tougher times, with the New York Post saying in February that it could be sold for as little as $20 million. Its backers have included rap mogul Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and the Saudi royal family.

Vista’s business is built around VistaJet, which operates more than 70 directly owned corporate aircraft that can be booked for individual trips. It also bought XOJET from private equity firm TPG last year, adding a fleet of smaller planes.

The group is expanding as more companies opt to purchase flying hours on private jets rather than own or operate aircraft directly, a trend that shows no signs of abating, according to Flohr. It’s biggest rival, Columbus, Ohio-based NetJets, is part of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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