Landmark Aviation Makes ‘Landmark’ Acquisition

 - June 2, 2014, 5:30 AM

April was a banner month for Landmark Aviation, beginning with the Carlyle Group subsidiary announcing it had entered the UK FBO market in a big way by buying the three former RSS Jet Centre locations at London Luton Airport, Manchester Airport and Glasgow Prestwick Airport. But that news only served as the opening act for Landmark’s bombshell that it had agreed to purchase Colorado-based Ross Aviation and, in the process, expand its U.S. network by 50 percent. The deal is the largest addition to an FBO chain since 2006, when Macquarie Investments bought the former Trajen FBO network’s 23 locations and merged them under its Atlantic Aviation banner.

Ross, whose 19 FBOs operate under their own individual names, quietly rose to become the fifth largest aviation service provider chain in the U.S. since its start a decade ago. Over the past year alone, the company added five FBOs, in addition to a hangar facility at New Jersey’s Morristown Municipal Airport.

The transaction includes FBOs at Spokane International Airport (Washington);Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Colorado); Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (California); Laredo International and Midland International Airports (Texas); Santa Fe Municipal Airport (New Mexico); Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport/Ryan Field (Louisiana); Opa-Locka Executive Airport (Florida); Chester County G.O. Carlson Airport (Pennsylvania); Trenton Mercer Airport (New Jersey); and Williston Jet Center, at Sloulin Field International Airport in South Dakota, a joint venture with Fargo Jet Center. Ross also owns and operates the six Bradley Pacific locations in Hawaii (U.S. Customs and Immigration clearance is available at the Honolulu and Maui FBOs).

The acquisition will swell Landmark’s roster to 60 domestic locations and 76 overall. “It fits well in our network, and it gives us added strength in the West, which we really needed,” Landmark president and CEO Dan Bucaro told AIN, noting as well his company’s recent acquisition of Seattle-based Galvin Flying Services, and the opening later this summer of Landmark’s new multimillion-dollar facility at San Diego International Airport, where it is the sole GA services provider on the field. “When you look at it on a map it certainly improves where we are at and the relevance of our network to our customers.”

Rebranding Planned

While Ross retained the original company’s name to maintain customer familiarity when it acquired an FBO, Landmark will rebrand all the locations in the transaction once the sale closes. “We believe we want to expand the Landmark name, and that’s the approach we’re going to take,” said Bucaro, adding that he understands why Ross initially chose to keep the individual names.

Surprisingly, given the number of FBOs involved in the transaction, there was only one point of redundancy between the two company portfolios. “One of the important factors for us is that it was that clean,” said Bucaro. At Scottsdale, Ariz., Landmark already owns the other FBO at the airport and the disposition of the Ross-owned Scottsdale JetCenter remains to be determined.

For Jeffrey Ross, president and CEO of privately held Ross Aviation, this is his second time assembling and then selling off a group of locations, having sold off his four FBOs in 2004 before the start of the current Ross Aviation. “We had contemplated the exit for several years,” he told AIN, describing the factors behind the sale. “All of a sudden, the stars, the moon and the sun were aligned where there was a lot of private equity money out there, interest rates were low, the stock market was high, and so we thought it was a good time to expose our company to the market and see what kind of interest might show up.”

Terms of the deal–which is expected to close in the second half, pending authority approval–were not disclosed, but sources with knowledge of the transaction estimate the value to be in the vicinity of $375 million.

Carlyle, which last owned the company in 2007, reacquired Landmark from GTCR Golder Rauner and Platform Partners in 2012, and at the time GTCR’s leadership said that for Landmark to continue its success, it “required continued access to capital to grow through acquisition and new site development and the current owners had exhausted their resources during the four years of ownership and significant growth.”

Once this latest deal is complete, Landmark will have added 26 locations to its portfolio, plus another three FBOs that were consolidated into existing Landmark operations at airports, since Carlyle resumed ownership. “[Carlyle’s] a good and disciplined partner, but it clearly believes as do I that there’s going to be continued consolidation in the industry,” said Bucaro. “We’re not just looking to buy; we have to believe that there is an actual value that is going to improve our network and improve our relevance to our customer base, and it is supportive.”