Blackstone acquires majority stake in two Maldives-based seaplane operators

Private equity major Blackstone Group has acquired a controlling stake in Maldives-based seaplane operators Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) for an undisclosed amount.

Seaplanes are an essential part of luxury tourism in Maldives as a link between the airport and tiny stretches of land in the island nation with a one-island-one-resort concept.

As a part of the deal, Lars Erik Nielsen (founder of MAT) and Lars Petré and Hussain Afeef, the majority shareholders in TMA, will continue to serve on board as directors of the respective firms and also will retain a substantial shareholding.

Deutsche Bank and HSBC were the advisors to Blackstone and Churchill Capital and Northern Lights served as advisors to seaplane operators on the transaction.

Set up in 1992 to provide sea plane transfer services in Maldives, MAT operates over 20 De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft and offers a wide range of services from excursions to photo flights and charters.

TMA was started in 1988 as a helicopter operator under the name Hummingbird in Maldives. After investment by Lars Petré, Hussain Afeef and Mohammed Moosa in 1998, it got its name changed to TMA. Currently it operates over 20 Twin Otters and its own Sea Plane Terminal with 13 exclusive lounges for select resorts.

Both operators are based on the Hulhule Airport Island in Maldives and together employ more than 900 people.

“Blackstone manages, through its portfolio companies, the largest number of hotel rooms in the world and this transaction marks our sustained enthusiasm for the travel and tourism space,” said Prakash Melwani, senior MD and chief investment officer at Blackstone’s PE unit based in New York.

Blackstone looks to capitalise on the tourist destination as it is the first investment in this space in South Asia.

Last year, the PE firm invested in three companies in India -- International Tractors (which is into tractors with Sonalika brand), S H Kelkar and Co Pvt Ltd (manufacturing of cosmetics and healthcare products) and Financial Technologies (India) Ltd (finance solutions company).

In another PE deal involving the tourism sector in South Asia, Fairbridge Capital acquired majority stake in public listed Thomas Cook (India) in 2012.

(Edited by Prem Udayabhanu)

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