US, China consortium to pursue Maldives seaplane operator buyout

Global alternative investment firm Bain Capital has teamed up with Chinese conglomerate Tempus Group Co. to bid for the Maldives’ main seaplane operator Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA), media reports said Friday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg said the consortium has been discussing a valuation of about USD 500 million, though precise terms are still under negotiation. US venture capital firm Blackstone, which currently controls the airline, remains in talks with other potential acquirers, it added.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, there is no certainty the discussions will lead to a transaction, though Blackstone aims to reach an agreement by the end of the year.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Tempus Group runs several businesses, including tour operator Shenzhen Tempus Global Travel Holdings Ltd. Shares of Tempus Global Travel have fallen 11 percent in Shenzhen trading this year, giving the company a market value of about USD 1.3 billion.

The Maldives has attracted investment from Chinese online travel agencies and private equity firms seeking to cater to Chinese holidaymakers, who account for the largest group of arrivals in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Reports of a possible bid by Bain Capital come months after Bloomberg reported that Blackstone was considering a sale of its stake in TMA, after receiving takeover interest in the company from private equity firms as well as strategic buyers.

The report coincided with an announcement by Chinese conglomerate Zongshen Industrial Group (ZIG) that it was interested in acquiring a stake in TMA.

Blackstone in 2013 acquired controlling stakes in two Maldives-based seaplane operators – Maldivian Air Taxi and Trans Maldivian Airways – and merged the two under the TMA brand.

TMA operates an all-amphibian fleet of 49 aircraft — one DHC-6-100, one DHC-6-200, 44 DHC-6-300s, and three DHC-6-400s — on regular flights throughout the Maldivian archipelago, making it the largest seaplane operator in the world.

In 2016, TMA operated over 120,000 flights, transferring close to a million passengers, including 80,000 residents.

In addition to TMA, Maldives’ flagship carrier Maldivian also operates a fleet of nine seaplanes.

Seaplane is the preferred mode of transport between the main Velana International Airport and dozens of resorts, especially those located in the outer atolls.

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