The wave of consolidation in private aviation continues. This morning, Dubai-based Vista Global Holding said it is acquiring Apollo Jets, a large charter broker of private aircraft, and Talon Air, the 14th largest charter operator in the U.S. For Vista, which didn’t enter the U.S. market until 2013, the deal, expected to close by the end of the month, cements its position as a key player in the world’s largest market for private jet travel.
It’s Vista Global’s fourth major acquisition in as many years. In 2018 it bought XOJET Aviation, the third-largest U.S. charter operator, followed in 2019 by technology platform and by-the-seat broker JetSmarter. Last year it added Red Wing Aviation, a top 20 operator, according to Argus TRAQPak.
Vista Global has acquired a private jet charter brokers that counts VIPs including baseball Derek … [+]
It’s not alone. Wheels Up is preparing to go public via a SPAC after snapping up Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature, TMC Jets and Mountain Air during the same period. In fact, 11 of the 22 largest Part 135 operators have been part of a transaction in the past three years.
For Vista Global, the deal accomplishes several objectives. Apollo Jets expands Vista’s XO brokerage business, created by the merger of the XOJET and JetSmarter retail units, with more UHNW clients who charter the entire aircraft. Talon Air makes it a significant player in aircraft management.
Management companies operate jets for owners who don’t want to create their own flight departments. They handle crewing, maintenance and compliance with government regulations. In many cases, aircraft owners who want to offset expenses allow their management company to make their airplanes available for charter when they aren’t using them.
Both Wheels Up and market leader NetJets are significant players in the management space. Brokers like Apollo act as travel agents, booking their clients onto the operators. Until now, Vista Global’s various fleets were mainly jets it owns.
Due to foreign ownership rules, Vista Global is only allowed to have a minority interest in the actual operators. Still, the deal will give its customers preferred access to the Talon fleet. At the same time, Apollo’s brokers, who are thought to book over $100 million in annual private jet charters, can now direct more of that demand onto the XOJET, VistaJet and Red Wing fleets.
Apollo Jets, founded in 2008, is known for its VIP clientele, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and sports legends Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Jeter. According to the announcement, Apollo has over 4,000 clients. Vista Global says it expects its North American flight activity to increase by 20%.
In announcing the deal, company chairman Thomas Flohr said, “I believe this is just the beginning of consolidation in our industry and Vista Global is leading this market transformation.”
Adding in Talon Air’s nearly 10,000 annual flight hours boosts Vista Global’s share in the North American to 4.5%. Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, Inc., which includes both NetJets and Executive Jet Management, holds an 18.3% slice of the pie. With its January acquisition of Mountain Aviation, Wheels Up slipped past Directional Aviation’s Flexjet with a 7.4% share, compared to 7.3%.
Despite several years of nonstop M&A, last year, the 10 biggest jet-sharing operators accounted for just 44.3% of combined Part 91k and Part 135 activity and 23.2% of total business aviation flight hours in North America. As a comparison, the 10 largest U.S. scheduled airlines have a 90% market share of the domestic market.
Vista Global says it plans to use the acquisition to expand its subscription business. Since the Great Recession, the number of companies offering jet cards and memberships has tripled as private flyers have eschewed the long-term commitments of full and fractional ownership. Both XO and VistaJet offer jet card versions with fixed one-way rates and guaranteed availability. They enable users to have many of the advantages of ownership, yet require a financial commitment beginning at $100,000 instead of millions of dollars. Until now, Apollo only offered on-demand charters, meaning clients purchased flights on a one-by-one basis.
One other area of expansion could be when clients land. In 2019, Apollo bought yacht broker Cambridge Yacht Group, rebranding it as Apollo Yachts. Last year, VistaJet launched a series of global travel experiences, including a preferred hotel program. XO has also been expanding offers in conjunction with five-star resorts. Wheels Up has said it is looking at moving into the villa and yacht rental market.
Possible future acquisitions for private jet companies could target luxury travel agencies with the goal of offering UHNW clients complete travel planning services. For example, Prive Jets is an offshoot of Miami-based Virtuoso agency Forest Travel, which founded the private jet charter broker to serve its affluent clientele. Air Charter Service, a large jet broker, created an in-house team of travel advisors several years ago. Many jet companies already have marketing alliances with various travel agencies and concierge services.