Canadian private equity firm Onex bought Calgary-based WestJet Airlines, paying a 67% premium to Friday’s closing share price. Under the agreement, Onex will pay $31.00 per share for WestJet. The airline will become a private company in a deal valued at $5 billion including assumed debt.
The acquisition comes after WestJet ended a 13-year streak of profitability in 2018. The airline experienced rising fuel costs, a threat of strike from its unionized pilots, and increased competition.
The 25-year old WestJet has evolved from a low-budget domestic carrier to an airline with flights to the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean.
“Since our first flight in 1996, WestJet has been singularly focused on providing better options for the Canadian traveling public and this transaction retains that commitment,” said Clive Beddoe, WestJet’s founder and chairman in a prepared statement. “I am particularly pleased that WestJet will remain headquartered in Calgary and will continue to build on the success that our 14,000 WestJetters have created. Onex’s aerospace experience, history of positive employee relations, and long-term orientation makes it an ideal partner for WestJetters, and I am excited about our future.”
Doug Taylor, managing director of equity research at Canaccord Genuity, told Reuters that this transaction is not expected to negatively impact the competitive landscape for airline travel. In their view a private equity firm will act rationally “with respect to its approach to yields and profitability versus market share.”
The deal is set to close in late 2019 to early 2020.