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Cash Flow: Private Equity Pumping Billions into General Aviation

In recent years, the general aviation industry has been roiled by merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, which has seen such iconic fixed base operators (FBOs) as Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation change ownership through mega-billion-dollar deals financed primarily by private equity investor organizations. But do deals of this magnitude represent the future of the general aviation industry, in which private equity companies will predominate, or are they more indicative of “striking while the iron is hot” at a time when a global pandemic has given general aviation a tailwind? To begin to answer that question, it is helpful to have some idea of how private equity investors work. According to Adam Guthorn, Managing Director of Alton Aviation Consultancy in New York, private equity investors normally prefer to invest in established and stable cash-flow generating businesses that have predictable revenue streams. “Ideally that would be in underlying markets that are growing at a healthy rate,” he explained.  Along with that, investors generally want to understand company positioning, market dynamics, growth prospects, and exit considerations. For company positioning, investors seek to understand what Guthorn terms an acquisition target’s “moat,” or how easy or difficult it would be for another player to disrupt that position and steal market share.  “Ideally the company is positioned in a large and stable market that is growing in a predictable fashion,” Guthorn noted. “For many companies in business aviation, growth has been highly correlated with some combination of gross domestic product (GDP), equity market performance, and the number and aggregate wealth of high-net worth individuals.” Interestingly, said Guthorn, a declining market is not necessarily a “deal breaker” if investors can convince themselves that a target is well-positioned to be one of the last players standing in a market that may otherwise have positive attributes, such as

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Welcome to the Aviation Business Journal, the official publication of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

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