Aviation Week – By Kerry Lynch
Fractional ownership pioneer Richard Santulli and former NetJets Europe CEO William Kelly have resurfaced in the aviation industry with a newly established helicopter and business jet leasing firm, Milestone Aviation Group.
The company today announced it has secured $500 million of equity capital commitments to formally launch the business. The Jordan Company, a middle-market private equity firm, is the leading investor with equity firm Nautic Partners.
The company will have bases in Dublin, Ireland, and Columbus, Ohio, which is the home of Santulli’s previous venture, NetJets. Santulli was widely believed to be a rising star in NetJets’ parent Berkshire Hathaway, when he stepped down a year ago as chairman and CEO of NetJets amid mounting losses.
Santulli had formerly created RTS Helicopters, a helicopter leasing company that primarily served the offshore oil and gas industry. In 1986, however, he turned his attention to the concept of selling fractions in aircraft, an enterprise that initially was met with substantial skepticism.
But after several years, the fractional ownership company, then called Executive Jet Aviation, began to take off and was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet for $725 million. The company was renamed NetJets in 2002.
In his newest venture, Santulli returns to the helicopter/business jet leasing business. “Starting a new business when I see a marketplace opportunity is what I love to do,” Santulli says, calling the helicopter and private jet financing niche an important, but underserved market. “Today, many good helicopter operators worldwide cannot get access to capital despite a demand for their services.”
The business will be headquartered in Dublin and provide up to 100% financing for new and used aircraft transactions. Milestone will purchase the aircraft and lease to the customer.
“Our entire management team has experience in running an aviation company, which helps us uniquely understand our customers’ needs,” says Kelly. “We understand safety, flight operations and maintenance.” Kelly joined NetJets in 2002 and took over the NetJets Europe operation in 2006. He left the company last fall.