Bids invited for control of unmanned air vehicle manufacturer despite expected profit

Australian unmanned air vehicle manufacturer Aerosonde has been put up for sale by Saab Australia just six months after it took full control of the company.

The move comes as Aerosonde is going through a period of some of the most intense activity in its 12-year history, including flight trials for the Australian Coastwatch organisation, science payload flights for NASA, and the sale of four air vehicles to the US Navy's Office of Naval Research.

The sale was initiated by Saab Australia without reference to its Swedish parent company, which is separately planning a major expansion of activity in the UAV sector via Saab Aerosystems.

Saab Australia advised major Aerosonde customers of an impending sale in mid-April, insisting that its December 2003 takeover was intended to "simplify planning for significant growth prospects for Aerosonde", adding: "The majority ownership was not intended to be a permanent arrangement."

The sale is being handled by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which told prospective bidders in mid-June that Aerosonde had lost A$2.6 million ($1.8 million) with net liabilities of A$4.5 million in the 18-month trading period ending on 30 June 2002.

Net losses for the year to 30 June 2004 are expected to reach A$900,000, but an A$200,000 profit is expected for the 12 months to 31 December 2004.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers says a total of A$18 million has been spent developing the Aerosonde system since the company was launched. Baseline profit forecast for 2005 is A$6.42 million with the potential to reach A$13.9 million. Baseline profit for 2006 is forecast at A$7.86 million, with the potential to reach A$18.4 million.

Registrations for the sale process were due to close on 25 June, but PriceWaterhouseCoopers has extended the deadline to 9 July. A due diligence process will be carried out between late July and early August, with best and final offers to arrive by 14 August. Saab Australia wants the sale finalised by September.

The sale excludes Aerosonde North America, which is 100% controlled by TGR, headed by former Aerosonde Holdings directors. Along with Saab Australia, TGR became one of the two primary owners of that company after it was delisted from the Australian stock exchange in 2002. TGR retains an exclusive licence for access to Aerosonde technology.

The Aerosonde, which has a 3.5m (11.5ft) wingspan, was the first UAV to cross the Atlantic, flying 3,200km (1,730nm) from Newfoundland in Canada to the Outer Hebrides in the UK in 1998.



Source: Flight International