Max Lyons, the president and CEO of Hillsboro Aviation, said investment groups interested in buying the company’s flight school have approached him “many times.” And every time, he said “No,” until last month.
Hillsboro Aviation has sold its flight-training division in a transaction that closed Nov. 21, Lyons said Tuesday in his office, though Lyons will remain CEO of the school, dubbed “Hillsboro Aero Academy,” and retain a minority ownership.
The buyers are Renovus Capital, a Pennsylvania-based $180 million private equity fund focusing on education, and Graycliff Partners, an independent investment firm previously operating as HSBC Capital with offices in New York and Brazil, according to a news release.
Lyons declined to reveal the terms of the sale but described it as a “bittersweet” moment. A former helicopter student at the company, he was hired as a helicopter flight instructor in 1988 and played a large part in Hillsboro Aviation’s growth. The business is the largest flight school on the West Coast, Lyons said, and students come from all over the world to learn to fly in Hillsboro.
“It just seems like the right time,” said Lyons, who recently turned 60.
Lyons and Hillsboro Aviation General Manager Jon Hay said the day-to-day operations of the flight school aren’t likely to change as a result of the sale. Hay will eventually take over as CEO and is also a minority owner of the Aero Academy, Lyons said.
“All of the management is really staying the same,” Hay said.
Hillsboro Aviation will retain its flight charter business – the company provides helicopters for everything from television news stations to search-and-rescue operations – and continue to sell airplanes, helicopters and fuel. The Port of Portland, which operates Hillsboro Airport, approved a 35-year ground lease in October so the company can build a new hangar for aircraft maintenance, fueling and sales. It will be the first hangar on the north side of the airport.
Lyons said the company will continue to grow in its other locations in Prineville and Troutdale, but not any longer in Hillsboro.
“We’re at a very comfortable level in Hillsboro,” Lyons said.
Of the company’s approximately 270 employees, about 200 will move over to the Aero Academy, Lyons said. Seventy-five of Hillsboro Aviation’s approximately 90 aircraft will also move to the newly created company.
“I love the company, the flight-training side,” Lyons said. “It’s something that’s very rewarding. People come here, and they smile.”