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Aviation Blog

Vista Global, Wheels Up Continue Private Jet M&A Frenzy – Forbes

Vista Global Holding this morning announced it had entered an agreement to acquire leading European private jet charter operator Air Hamburg. It comes weeks after rival Wheels Up Experience bought U.S. light jet operator Alante Air Charter and entered an agreement to purchase U.K.-based broker and aviation services provider Air Partner.
For Dubai-based Vista, it will be its fourth operator acquisition since September 2018, when it bought XOJet. Since then, it has added Red Wing Aviation in 2020 and Talon Air in 2021. It also bought two large brokerages; jet sharing focused JetSmarter in 2019 and Apollo Jets, as part of the Talon Air deal.
Vista Global has agreed to acquire Air Hamburg, including its fleet of 44 owned and managed private … [+] jets. Its VistaJet units has over 80 super midsize and large cabin jets. When the deal is completed, the group will have over 240 aircraft. (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Air Hamburg will add 44 owned and managed private jets, including a fleet of 21 large-cabin Embraer Legacy 600 derivatives.
Vista has been in discussions to acquire Jet Edge, the seventh-largest U.S. charter operator, which will have a fleet of 95 super-midsize and large-cabin jets by midyear. It’s not clear where those talks stand.
The move also brings eight Cessna Citation XLS midsize jets and five Phenom 300 light jets. Last year XO launched a branded fleet of light and midsize jets in Europe to complement flagship VistaJet’s super-midsize and ultra-long-range Bombardier jets.
Since June 2019, Wheels Up snapped up operators TMC Jets, Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature, Mountain Aviation, and technology platform Avianis before its latest deals.
Last June, Bloomberg reported Vista was preparing for a SPAC-based public offering, although so far, nothing has materialized. (Updated, Feb. 22, 2022 @ 8:26 am: A spokesperson says, “We have no plan to merge with a SPAC. We’re a privately held company and just placed a pricing of $1Billion of 6.375% Senior Unsecured Notes that was more than 5x oversubscribed — that’s the continued plan for the company.”)
Wheels Up, which went public in July, has seen its share price pummeled as losses have mounted despite record sales. It closed Friday at $3.67, having traded between $15 and $3.22.
Vista Global Chairman Thomas Flohr told Corporate Jet Investor he plans to keep Air Hamburg operating as a separate unit. “We want the team to stay and for Air Hamburg to keep growing,” he said.
In addition to the aircraft and related facilities, Vista gets 650 employees. It also picks up Air Hamburg Technik, an MRO. Repair shops have become a prized asset as labor, and parts shortages have exacerbated delays fixing grounded aircraft. Wheels Up acquired MROs as part of its Delta Private Jets and Mountain Air deals.
In addition to the acquisitions, VistaJet is taking delivery of 27 new Bombardier Global 7500 and Challenger 350 jets over this year and last, of which 10 have already been delivered.
It also rebranded Talon Air’s aircraft management under the XO flag.
Both Wheels Up and Vista, along with Directional Aviation, parent of Flexjet, Sentient Jet, PrivateFly, and FXAir, are all chasing NetJets, although Vista is the most global.
Last year, the unit of Berkshire Hathaway said it would return to China via an investment in Shenzhen-based Amber Aviation.
Since 2018, Directional has expanded in Europe, buying U.K.-private jet operator Flairjet, Italy-based Sirio, and broker PrivateFly. In 2020, it launched fractional ownership via Flexjet. Last year, it bought two helicopter operators and placed an order for 200 eVTOLs.
As OEMs keep a lid on production and inventory of used private jets remain at historic lows, more consolidation is likely as big players seek to secure lift for members of their jet card programs. Argus TraqPak forecasts another record year for private jet flying in 2022.
Independent brokers say after previous operator acquisitions, owners prioritized fleet availability for members of their own jet card programs.
New research from Private Jet Card Comparisons finds that while 92% of private flyers expect to fly the same or more as last year, 44% have experienced delays or service issues, and 43% say changes providers have made are causing them to look at alternative programs.
Among European operators, Air Hamburg clocked 35,093 flight hours, according to WingX. Vista said the acquisition would boost group flight hours globally by 30%. NetJets Europe flew 65,999 hours last year.
(Updated, Feb. 22, 2022 @ 8:26 am: The number of new aircraft deliveries VistaJet is taking 2021-221 has been updated from 23 to 27)

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