AE Industrial Partners Adds to Buying Spree With Planned Columbia Helicopters Acquisition

By Frank Wolfe | July 18, 2019
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Columbia Model CH-47D Chinook with a 2,800 gallon capacity dropping water. (Columbia Helicopters Photo).

Florida-based private equity firm, AE Industrial Partners, announced July 18 it is adding to its list of recent acquisitions with a planned buy of Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters.

Since January 2018, AEI  has announced plans to buy Washington, D.C.-based Gryphon Technologies, a defense engineering and technical services firm; Kansas-based Forming and Machining Industries and Aerostructures Acquisition LLC (The Atlas Group); Utah-based airfreight operator Alpine Air Express; and Indiana-based Resolute Industrial Holdings.


AEI focuses on aerospace/defense and government services, power generation and specialty industrial acquisitions. Columbia provides maintenance, repair and overhaul and manufacturing services and medium and heavy-lift helicopters — Boeing Vertol 107s, CH-47Ds and CH-234s — for military support, firefighting, on-shore oil and gas, infrastructure and forestry missions.

Steve Bandy will remain as the CEO of Columbia, while Columbia's majority owner, Nancy Lematta, the widow of company founder, Wesley Lematta, "will retain a significant ownership position in the company," according to AEI and Columbia, which did not release the terms of the acquisition, which the companies said is expected to close this year.

Columbia was founded in 1957 by helicopter pioneer, Wesley Lematta, the son of Finnish immigrants. The company's business began to soar in the 1970s, as Lematta gained traction with Columbia's large, twin-rotor helicopters for logging operations in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to its commercial business, Columbia has a DoD Commercial Airlift Review Board (CARB) certification that permits the company to provide outsourced military transport.

Among possible business opportunities, Columbia is looking to offer its firefighting helicopters to European countries that rely on fixed wing aircraft to battle fires.

Columbia has significant firefighting capabilities. Last November, Columbia scrambled five of its Chinooks to fight devastating blazes in California — the Camp Fire in northern California and the Woolsey Fire in southern California.

Kirk Konert, a principal at AEI, said on July 18 that AEI believes "there is a significant opportunity to build on the capabilities that Columbia has developed over the last 60 years, and expand into new markets and services."

Last February, the Houston-based Bristow Group and Columbia said that they had "mutually agreed" to terminate the planned Bristow acquisition of Columbia amid the tanking of Bristow's share price.

In connection with the termination, the companies said Bristow paid $20 million to Columbia and that Bristow and Columbia agreed to release one another "from all claims in connection with the purchase agreement and the related transactions."

On the heels of a restructuring to cushion the impact of the oil and gas market downturn over the past few years and the uneven recovery of those markets, Bristow Group last November announced its plans to acquire Columbia for $560 million. The announcement of the planned buy came on Nov. 9, a day after the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fires ignited.


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