HELIKOPTER SERVICES Group (HSG) has added South Africa's Court Helicopters to its growing portfolio of acquisitions, giving the Norwegian group access to an expanding offshore market in southern Africa.

The Norwegian group paid $5.5 million for the initial stake, but has the option to acquire the remainder of the company in late 1998. A similar deal was struck when HSG took a controlling stake in UK operator Bond in 1994.

HSG president Lars Harlem says that the deal follows the group's strategy of building a global operation through "selective acquisitions of regional companies". He adds that HSG was prompted by the growth in southern Africa's offshore oil and gas fields.

Court, which was originally set up in 1962 by Norwegian shipping operators, has been in the hands of two South African Investors since 1969. In 1995, the company reached sales of around $15 million, with net profits of just over $1 million. Besides offshore work, Court also has a range of fire fighting, ambulance and heavy-lift contracts

HSG has doubled in size over the past four years through a series of acquisitions. Besides the Bond purchase, which brought with it Australian operator Lloyd Helicopters, HSG also acquired Sweden's Heliflyg in mid-1994.

HSG says that it has now become the world's largest helicopter group but it is challenged, by other emerging groups within a consolidating industry. Canadian Helicopter has grown with the acquisition of UK North Sea operator BIH while, in March, US giant Offshore Logistics, which runs Air Logistics helicopters, followed suit with a deal for half of other UK operator Bristow.

In 1995, HSG's turnover stood at close to NKr2.2 billion ($330 million) although net profits were marginally down, at NKr146 million, largely because of rising financial charges. Its 145 helicopters will be joined by Court's Sikorsky S-61N and S-76 types.

Source: Flight International