Directional Aviation Capital (DAC)—the company headed by Kenn Ricci that owns Flight Options, Sentient Jet, Nextant Aerospace and Constant Aviation—announced this morning that it is buying fractional provider Flexjet from Bombardier for $185 million. Bombardier president and CEO Pierre Beaudoin said the sale to DAC “marks the next step in Flexjet’s evolution…[and] will allow Bombardier to focus on its core business areas,” which is mainly aircraft manufacturing and product support. The transaction is expected to close by year-end, pending U.S. government approvals.
Flexjet LLC, which is DAC’s shell company for the acquisition, also placed a $1.8 billion firm order for 85 Bombardier business jets—25 Learjet 75s, 30 Learjet 85s, 20 Challenger 350s and 10 Challenger 605s—along with options for 160 more worth another $3.4 billion. According to Ricci, the Learjet 75 order is for a not-yet-announced LXi version, which has a six-seat cabin configuration with a divan (a mockup of this interior will be displayed at the NBAA Convention next month). Aircraft deliveries from this $5.2 billion order will begin in July.
Ricci told AIN that Flexjet LLC will operate separately from Flight Options, with the former being a luxury “bespoke” fractional provider flying newer aircraft (four years old or less) while the latter will be the “value” fractional with a fleet of mostly pre-owned or remanufactured jets. “Our vision for Flexjet is of a luxury brand with a young fleet, the latest technology, hand-crafted interiors and an unmatched owner experience,” he said. “Flexjet is a well run, profitable business known for its exceptional focus on owner experience and operational excellence and is a perfect complement to our current portfolio.” All Flexjet employees will be retained, Ricci added.
Through its Flexjet, Flight Options and Sentient Jet brands, “Directional Aviation Capital’s portfolio companies will offer private air travelers a full range of choices as to how they fly, with programs ranging from fractional ownership to membership, leasing, jet cards and charter,” Ricci said. “Essentially, we’ll have two closed-fleet products: Flexjet and Flight Options, as well as two open-fleet options with Sentient charter and Sentient jet cards.” Combined, these businesses account for more than $1.1 billion in revenues and some 200,000 flight hours per year, he noted.
Looking at the bigger picture, Ricci said the consolidation of the fractional industry was “inevitable,” given that this market segment has matured and there has been excess capacity over the past several years. “This led to CitationAir exiting the fractional market and contributed to the recent downfall of Avantair,” he asserted.
While he acknowledges that some excess capacity remains, Ricci is bullish about the fractional industry in the near and longer terms. In fact, he sees an opportunity in the ultra-long-range, large-cabin fractional market and told AIN it is likely that Flexjet LLC will be announcing a follow-on order for Bombardier Globals by the end of this year. Flexjet currently does not have any Globals.
In the meantime, Ricci’s focus will be on ensuring the smooth transition of Flexjet to Directional Aviation from Bombardier. “The goal is for Flexjet customers not to notice that there has been a change in ownership,” he said. “I’m used to buying distressed properties, but Flexjet has been profitable and frankly there’s nothing really to fix. So it’s steady as she goes for now.”