Aurora-Based Columbia Helicopters To Be Sold … Again

A private equity firm headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., has announced a new deal to acquire Aurora-based Columbia Helicopters, the second time in a year that such a move has been attempted.

AE Industrial Partners, which specializes in aerospace, defense services, power generation, and specialty industrial markets, says it has signed a “definitive agreement” to acquire Columbia, a global leader in heavy-lift helicopter operations and manufacture, maintenance, repair and overhaul services that was founded by Wes Lematta in 1957 and is privately held by the Lematta family and the company’s existing management.

According to AEI, Columbia CEO Steve Bandy will remain in his role, while majority owner Nancy Lematta will “retain a significant ownership position in the company.” Specific terms of the transaction, which is expected to close later this year, are not being disclosed.

“This is an exciting new phase of evolution for Columbia,” Bandy says. “We have always taken pride in our dedicated people and how they deliver inspired solutions to our customers. This new partnership supports our vision of growth and diversification. With AEI’s support and experience, Columbia’s commitment to safety and operational excellence and, above all else, our people, we are positioned for even greater success well into the future.”

Known for its industry-leading reliability, safety, and innovation, Columbia holds many aviation authorizations, including a Department of Defense certification that allows them to perform outsourced military transport and other mission-critical operations. AEI Principal Kirk Konert called the company a “clear industry leader,” with a “strong track record of best-in-class aviation services.”

“AEI is excited to support the company, as we believe there is a significant opportunity to build on the capabilities that Columbia has developed over the last 60 years, and expand into new markets and services,” Konert said. “With the support of Columbia’s outstanding management team, we look forward to helping the company take the next step in its evolution.”

This is the second time in less than a year a move to acquire Columbia was announced by a larger investor. In November, the Houston, Texas-based Bristow Group Inc. shared its plans to purchase Columbia for $560 million.

The deal was terminated several months later, and a shareholder later said it had been “horribly botched” on the part of Bristow’s CEO. Bristow filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

According to numbers that were released when the Bristow deal was first announced, Columbia had reported gross revenues of approximately $281 million in the previous 12 months and earnings of $117 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. It operates a fleet of 21 tandem rotor helicopters out of its home airport, Wes Lematta Field at Aurora State Airport.

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