US, China consortium buys Maldives seaplane operator TMA for $550 mln

A consortium led by US-based Bain Capital and a Chinese conglomerate on Sunday agreed to buy Maldives’ main seaplane operator Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) from Blackstone for around USD 550 million.

For its investment in the tropical holiday destination, the global alternative investment firm partnered with Chinese conglomerate Tempus Group, which runs businesses, including tour operator Shenzhen Tempus Global Travel Holdings and TBRJ Funds.

Bain and Blackstone signed the agreement on Sunday, with the acquisition expected to be completed in the following months.

“TMA is well-positioned to capture the growing tourism demand in the Maldives. Leveraging Bain Capital Private Equity’s successful track record in the leisure industry, we look forward to working with the current management team, employees and customers of TMA to continue to grow and support the industry,” Jonathan Zhu, Managing Director of Bain Capital, was quoted in a statement, as saying.

Citing a source familiar with the transaction, India’s Economic Times said Bain and its partners will end up owning 80 percent of TMA. The other minority shareholders and local founders are staying on with a small stake, it added.

According to the Economic Times, this will be the biggest exit by Blackstone across Asia, giving the private equity firm a 4.8-fold return on a four-year investment.

“We were able to apply our expertise as operators to help Trans Maldivian expand and grow into one of the largest companies into the Maldives and the world’s largest seaplane operator,” Amit Dixit, Head of Blackstone’s India division, which managed the investment in TMA, was quoted in the statement, as saying.

Blackstone in 2013 acquired controlling stakes in TMA and its sole competitor Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT), and merged the two under the TMA brand.

A possible sale of TMA by Blackstone was first reported in September by Bloomberg, which said that the American firm was considering an exit 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.

However, Bloomberg later reported that Bain and Tempus were the top bidders.

TMA currently 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 10 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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