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Investing through the cycle

Ben Forrest | July 29, 2016

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 10 seconds.

In difficult times, you learn who your true partners are. That’s when you discover that it’s not good to be alone, and that you need to be in the trenches with trusted allies to be successful.

That’s the kind of partner Milestone Aviation Group intends to be during the downturn in oil prices. They’re in it for the long haul, and they’re excited about what lies ahead.


“It’s a very difficult time for all our customers, especially those who operate offshore,” said Milestone president Daniel Rosenthal. “But I’m a big believer that it doesn’t help to make excuses about the downturn. The strongest partners and the strongest players work their way through.”

These are times when strong financial backing is essential, and Milestone has it, thanks to its parent company, GE Capital Aviation Services. GE acquired the Dublin, Ireland-based firm in January 2015, providing resources that Rosenthal believes make a clear difference.

“Our customers know that we will be there for them today and tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t have to rely upon raising debt capital to grow our business at a time when it’s getting more difficult to raise that capital.

“We have GE as 100 percent owner and fully behind us. That allows us to really focus on what our customers need, and not on raising capital in order to meet what our customers need.”

Milestone Aviation Group was created in August 2010 with Richard Santulli as its co-founder, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who previously helped shape the face of modern aviation leasing as the founder and former chairman and CEO of NetJets Inc.

Milestone’s founders raised half a billion dollars in equity seed capital to launch the business, and the company has since acquired more than US$3.6 billion in utility helicopters that are leased to high-quality operators around the globe.

The fleet of more than 200 helicopters has dozens of different models from Airbus, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland and Bell. Those aircraft operate in 27 different countries for close to three dozen customers.

151-11-409“We’re a global business,” said Rosenthal. “When I say Milestone’s at the epicenter of the helicopter industry, that’s not meant arrogantly. It’s just a reality of the fleet size that we have, the breadth and depth of the relationships that we have throughout the industry.”

Milestone hopes to play a significant role in the evolution of the global helicopter fleet. “There is an industry supply and demand imbalance, and not just in offshore oil and gas,” said Rosenthal.

“Manufacturers keep introducing new models without retiring older ones. Industry success will require a fundamental shift in helicopter lifecycle management, and we look forward to driving this important conversation with the OEMs and operators.”‘

While many of its customers are in the oil and gas sector, Milestone also has US$600 million of helicopters on lease for lifesaving missions in the air medical and search-and-rescue sectors.

“We look at the breadth and the access that we have and feel that we’re not just an oil and gas helicopter lessor,” said Rosenthal. “We are a helicopter lessor, period … and ultimately, I think that our customers are going to benefit as we continue to invest through the downturn.”

With GE behind Milestone, Rosenthal also sees an ability to grow the company’s government business, another prospect that has him excited about what lies ahead.

“When we were just Milestone–backed by private equity before GE ownership–when we would knock on the door of a government we might get a meeting,” Rosenthal said. “But, it generally would be a lower-level meeting.

“Being a part of GE, the contacts and the relationships are such that we can get any meeting that we want. We can help [create] solutions for our government customers. So I’m very excited about our ability to grow in the government space.”

Milestone added eight new people to its commercial team and opened up five new offices around the world in 2015, providing more of a customer-specific focus and regional product knowledge to all its customers.

“The Milestone core values are really to be entrepreneurial and nimble for our customers and to focus on long-term partnerships,” said Rosenthal. “We tend to prioritize the overall relationship as opposed to a specific transaction, and we think we deliver value in terms of the breadth of our product offerings, as well as our experience and the GE ownership that extends beyond a commodity market.

“And our customers, who have benefitted from the long-term relationships, really give us that feedback. They recognize that we’re not in the relationship just for a single deal–that we’ll work with them when they have challenges.”

That’s something Rosenthal sees as a hallmark of the company.

“I think you know what you’re getting from Milestone,” he said. “The track record is strong, the desire to support our customers is strong, and that’s why despite today’s economic times in the offshore market, we’re actually excited about the years ahead.

“We think these are challenges where we can support our customers better than anyone else, and we’re looking forward to doing so.”

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