Milestone’s financing model brings new capital for industry

HAI Convention News » 2012
February 13, 2012, 11:30 PM

Milestone Aviation Group (Booth No 7010), a helicopter financing company, made a splash at Heli-Expo this year, announcing a $480 million deal with Eurocopter (Booth No. 1917) for 16 EC225s, a contract with Sikorsky Aircraft (Booth No. 6148) for three S-92s (terms not disclosed), and a $125-135 million leasing agreement with major operator Bristow Group for five large helicopters.

Milestone chairman Richard Santulli is used to catching the aviation industry’s attention. His previous job was as founder and CEO of NetJets, which developed the fractional ownership model for business jets. Milestone has provided $500 million in financing for helicopters since opening its doors in 2010.

Santulli said Milestone’s model is different from that of the leasing companies that have been a staple of the airline world for years. “They buy 50 airplanes. That’s all they do,” he told AIN. “Our business is developing partnerships and relationships with operators. Our major paradigm is to provide financial capital to good operators.”

Milestone can offer either lease arrangements or 100 percent financing for helicopter purchases, and works with large operators seeking more flexibility in deploying capital or small operators without the capital to grow. The only requirement is that the helicopters be used in revenue-generating missions rather than executive transport.

The oil and gas industry is playing a large role in Milestone’s growth. When petroleum companies put out tenders or solicitations, operators bidding on the work must include the serial number of any helicopter they intend to use to provide the service. If the operator doesn’t have the lift capacity in its fleet, it may not have the wherewithal to put down a deposit for a delivery position for the helicopter – or take the risk of not getting the contract. But Milestone does.

Milestone will place the order for the needed helicopter, and finance the transaction, if the bidding company gets the contract. If the operator doesn’t get the contract, Milestone is happy to take possession of the aircraft for its leasing business.

“These very good operators around the world can now bid on tenders,” Santulli explained.

CEO William Kelly added, “A lot of the oil and gas companies like that. It gives them other people to compete [for the contract].” For Santulli, the move to Milestone from NetJets has been something of a homecoming. “I started in helicopters. In 1980 I started RTS helicopters.” (Santulli’s initials.) And he brought many of his NetJets colleagues with him, which he said gives the company an unparalleled ability to size up all facets of a potential client’s operation.

As for what it’s like to start Milestone after the huge success of NetJets, Santulli said, “We’re delighted with where we are. To build something again is a nice thing.”

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