Exits – Up, up and away for Oxford Aviation

Close Brothers Group announced the GBP55.4 million ($87 million) sale of Oxford Aviation to BBA Group at the beginning of March. Based at Oxford Airport, Oxford Aviation is described as a pre-eminent provider of first-stage pilot training in the UK’ and is the leading independent provider in the wider European market. The company also operates a fixed base operation at Oxford Airport in conjunction with a long-established overhaul and maintenance company. Oxford Aviation’s sales have grown at more than 20 per cent per annum over the past three years, reaching GBP37 million in 1999.

BBA, which has extensive interests in aviation and aviation services and Oxford Aviation expects to leverage its new owner’s network to accelerate its expansion in the international market place. Growth prospects for Oxford Aviation have recently been enhanced by a new Joint Aviation Authority agreement regarding the training of pilots by foreign bodies.

Close Investment, Close Brothers’ private equity arm, led a GBP20 million buyout of Oxford Aviation in the summer of 1997, investing just under GBP9 million for a large majority stake. Close Investment reports a transaction IRR of around 80 per cent on its investment in Oxford.

Close Investments, which has completed a number of successful exits during the past year including, most recently, the GBP18.5 million sale of HM Group, currently manages GBP260 million in private equity funds.

Managing director John Snook says the Oxford Aviation exit “has underscored [Close’s] position as a top-quartile fund manager in UK private equity. We have now enjoyed a 15-year track record in the top quartile”.