BBA buys training school

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David Learmount/LONDON

Diversified industrial conglomerate BBA has bought Europe's largest professional pilot training organisation, Oxford Aviation of the UK, marking the first move in an expected trend towards the consolidation of the continent's fragmented nationally orientated training sector.

London-based BBA, which has several aviation-related subsidiaries, says the £55.4 million ($88.5 million) deal was chosen as its first foray into the training sector because of the nature of the industry in Europe. "We thought Europe was the best initial step because it is a more fragmented market and gives us an opportunity to do a bit of consolidation," says chief executive Roberto Quarta.

Merger opportunities have been presented by the stripping away of regulatory hurdles to European consolidation through the replacement last year of the old system of national licensing and training regulations by the pan-European Joint Aviation Requirements for Flight Crew Licensing (JAR FCL).

Oxford Aviation's Oxford Air Training School claims 20% of the European third party ab initio training market and the company also has maintenance and engineer training operations, based at Oxford Airport, which it owns. In addition it has a maintenance and fixed-base operation at the airport. Quarta says the purchase, from Close Investment, will provide BBA with "a strategic base to roll out our full range of aviation services in Europe, where we see an excellent opportunity to develop a network similar to the market leading position we have in the USA".

Oxford chief executive Mick Daw says his business is ready for the rapidly changing European market. BBA's ownership will mean an end to "short-termism".

BBA is already a major player in the aviation engineering and fixed base operator (FBO) market in the USA and UK, with an aviation-related turnover of £430 million. US subsidiaries include the Signature group of FBOs and maintenance centres, the PAI avionics maintenance group, and aero-engine overhaulers Dallas Airmotive and ITS. Last year saw a rash of acquisitions, including UK-based H+S Aviation, Air Luxor France, and - in the USA - PAI, Palm Springs Airport FBO, Veratec, UNC Airwork and AMR Combs. BBA also has textiles and friction materials divisions.