Richard Santulli, founder of fractional-share company NetJets, is back in the aviation business with a new business jet and helicopter leasing company called Milestone Aviation Group. Santulli, 66, resigned from NetJets last August but said at the time that he would remain a consultant to the company for a year. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought NetJets in 1998 for $725 million.
Milestone Aviation is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and Santulli is chairman of the new venture. Before launching NetJets, Santulli was in charge of equipment leasing for Goldman Sachs Leasing and founded helicopter leasing company RTS Helicopters. William Kelly, former CEO of NetJets Europe, is Milestone’s CEO.
Milestone is starting with $500 million of equity capital provided by private equity firm The Jordan Company, which is leading the investment team, and partner Nautic Partners. Milestone will purchase aircraft selected by customers then lease the aircraft to the customer. The lease covers new, pre-owned and sale-leaseback transactions, and customers are responsible for all operating costs for the leased aircraft.
Milestone has already signed one firm customer and is working on deals worth about $110 million in Brazil, Canada and Nigeria, according to Santulli. He expects about 80 percent of Milestone’s business to be helicopter-related, with business jets accounting for the remainder. Milestone will lease only turbine-powered aircraft, and helicopters will be available only for customers who use them for revenue-producing purposes such as oil and gas work and aeromedical operations as well as private and government search-and-rescue activities. About 70 to 75 percent of the helicopter leases will involve oil and gas operators, he said. The customers that Milestone will partner with have excellent operational and maintenance records, he added, but their balance sheets might be stretched to the point that it’s difficult to obtain traditional financing, making it hard to bid on contracts. “We are looking to play a predominant role in providing lease financing to companies that otherwise have a difficult time raising financing,” he explained.
Business jet buyers will be able to obtain short-term leases through Milestone, which will offer lease periods as low as one to three years and limit customers to about a dozen jet types. No deals involving fractional shares will be considered.
Customers will be monitored closely and will have to meet Milestone’s standards for operating and maintaining their aircraft.
Santulli said that he decided to return to the aviation business because in consulting with Kelly and other team members he saw that there wasn’t much competition in the helicopter and business jet leasing arena. “We felt that we had the ability to service that market well,” he said. “I believe we will build a successful company and provide help to companies that otherwise would not be able to bid on these contracts."