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Bombardier sells Flexjet unit; new owner places $1.8-billion order

A Bombardier Learjet 75.


Bombardier Inc. is selling its Flexjet fractional jet ownership division to a private investor group in a deal that includes the sale to the buyer of 85 business aircraft valued at $1.8-billion (U.S.).

Including options to buy an additional 160 jets, the total value of the business-aircraft transaction could rise to $5.2-billion.

Montreal-based Bombardier said on Thursday it has reached a definitive agreement for the sale of Flexjet to Flexjet LLC, a new company funded by a group led by Cleveland, Ohio-based Directional Aviation Capital.

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Proceeds of the sale are $185-million. The deal -- for Flexjet's operations but not the planes, which are owned by the customers -- is subject to the usual regulatory and governmental approvals and set to close before the end of the year.

The firm deal for the 85 business jets includes 25 Learjet 75s, 30 Learjet 85s, 20 Challenger 350s and 10 Challenger 605 jets.

Flexjet, the world's second largest fractional jet ownership company, caters to corporate and individual fliers sharing in the ownership of a business jet. Launched 18 years ago, it also provides charter brokerage services and offers jet cards for the purchase of flight time.

Demand for fractional ownership has bounced back strongly from the negative impact of the global recession.

Richardson, Tex.-based Flexjet reported a 96 per cent year-over-year increase of new fractional and jet card sales in the January-to-June-2013 period, the company said in a news release Thursday.

Sales of new fractional shares increased 112 per cent and new jet card sales grew 68 per cent in the first half of this year, according to the company.

"We're very happy to be partnering with someone whose sole focus is private aviation," Flexjet president Deanna White -- who will stay on in her position under the new ownership-- said in an interview.

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The acquisition of Flexjet will add heft to Directional Aviation's existing fractional and charter broker operations and allow it to more aggressively compete against the number one player in the market -- NetJets Inc., owned by Warren Buffett -- said Ms. White.

"It's very important to the investor to take on the major competition," she said.

National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen estimates in a research report that Bombardier generated earnings per share of less than two cents (Canadian) from its Flexjet operations.

The sale is "net positive for Bombardier," although Flexjet's new owners will now be free to order business jets from Bombardier rivals, he said.

"Given the large order commitment announced today, we do not see this as a near-term threat for Bombardier."

The 30 Learjets in the order for 85 planes is a plus for Bombardier, said Mr. Doerksen.

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"Demand for the smaller Learjet line of jets has been weak in recent years so this order may help boost the production rate for these models."

"The sale of Flexjet's activities is a unique business opportunity that will allow Bombardier to focus on its core business areas," Bombardier president and chief executive officer Pierre Beaudoin said in a separate news release.

Bombardier spokeswoman Isabelle Rondeau said in an interview that Flexjet is profitable and that Bombardier was not actively seeking a buyer.

"We were approached by the group," she said.

"Flexjet is an extremely well-run, profitable business known for its unmatched focus on owner experience and operational excellence," Direction Aviation principal Kenn Ricci said.

"Our vision for Flexjet is of a luxury brand with a young fleet, the latest technology, custom interiors and continued industry-defining service."

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More


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