ASL Aviation Holdings acquired by private equity firm, will rapid fleet growth continue?

Earlier this month, ASL began operating a third A330F on behalf of DHL Express.

Ireland-based ASL Aviation Holdings, no stranger to acquisitions, announced its intent to be purchased by private equity firm Star Capital Partnership LLP for an undisclosed amount. In recent years, the ASL Group, which owns or holds stakes in cargo and passenger airlines based in Europe, Africa, and Asia, has grown rapidly by gobbling up complementary airline groups. Under new ownership, ASL says it remains committed to continued growth, but has not disclosed whether such growth may involve a change of tack.

Just over five years ago, ASL Group affiliate carriers operated less than fifty freighters – most of which were turboprops or narrowbody aircraft. Jumping ahead to today, ASL says it controls a fleet of around 130 passenger and freighter aircraft. Cargo Facts estimates that the freighter fleet operated by ASL-affiliate carriers has more than doubled in five years, with 106 freighters now in operation across seven carriers– nearly half of which are 737-400Fs.

Rapid growth for the Group commenced in 2014 when ASL Aviation agreed to acquire the Farnair Group of companies, which, at the time, included ownership or stakes in four airlines: Farnair Switzerland, Farnair Hungary, Quikjet India, and Thailand-based K-Mile Air (45% stake). In addition to the airlines, Farnair owned a ground handling company, pilot training operation, and rail-freight forwarder.

After the acquisition was completed, ASL subsequently rebranded its European carriers, so Air Contractors became ASL Airlines Ireland, Europe Airpost became ASL Airlines France, Farnair Switzerland was rebranded ASL Airlines Switzerland, and Farnair Hungary became ASL Airlines Hungary. By October 2014, the combined ASL/Farnair freighter fleets stood at about sixty-one units.

The next wave of growth for the group occurred in 2016; following FedEx’s acquisition of Netherlands-based TNT Express, ASL Aviation Group subsequently purchased the integrator’s airline operations, which included Belgian subsidiary TNT Airways and Pan Air Líneas Aéreas, based in Spain. Those airlines subsequently became ASL Airlines Belgium and ASL Airlines Spain. The Spanish carrier ultimately ceased operations, but ASL Airlines Belgium and other ASL Group carriers continue to operate flights for the combined FedEx/TNT entity.

Even after the acquisitions, ASL continues to add new platforms. Last year, ASL Airlines Belgium added a pair of 737-800BCFs, on-lease from GECAS. ASL Airlines Ireland also now operates A330-200Fs and a freighter-converted A330-300F for DHL Express on a CMI basis.

Returning to today’s deal, Star Capital will acquire 100% ownership of the Group from its current investors Compagnie Maritime Belge and 3P Air Freighters, which presently own 51% and 49% stakes in the company, respectively. Hugh Flynn, Chief Executive, ASL Holdings, said the investment would, “Provide the foundation for future growth and expanded service provision.” He added that ASL would work with Star to expand ASL’s “product offering” and “geographical compass.”

Those interested in learning more about future trends in air freight are invited to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2019, to be held 15-17 at the Langham Shanghai. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.