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Predators Lurk As Aircraft Maker Hawker Beechcraft Restructures

05/13/2012 | 03:20pm US/Eastern
   By David Pearson 
   Of  
 

U.S. business aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft's competitors may have been looking for all or part of it to come on to the market as the loss-making company struggled under a huge debt burden, but the decision to see Chapter 11 protection from its creditors means it will be reborn as a stronger, debt-free industry player, a senior company executive said Sunday.

"We're going to emerge as a strong, well-positioned, profitable company in the not-too-distant future," predicted Shawn Vick, executive vice president-customers, in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition.

Crippled by $2.5 billion of debt, Hawker Beechcraft filed for Chapter 11 protection on May 3, and expects to emerge in the last quarter of this year a much leaner company that will be able to resume spending on developing new products after having lagged its peers in recent years after the financial crisis of 2008 knocked the bottom out of the corporate aircraft market.

Holders of the company's debt, including the likes of Centerbridge Partners, Angelo Gordon & Company, and Capital Research & Management, have agreed to do a debt for equity swap that will give them control. They also agree to put up $400 million to allow Hawker Beechcraft to keep paying its suppliers.

Private equity firms and buyout specialists Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and Onex (OCX.T) that bought the company from Raytheon Co (>> Raytheon Company) in 2007 will retain token stakes at the outcome of the balance sheet restructuring.

"Do I expect interest from third parties? Yes, there's been interest from third parties," Vick said. "Am I going to be surprised if we're of interest to a variety of people who might view us as a strategic opportunity? No I won't be surprised at all because that's the way the world works."

Vick, who has been involved in private equity for 20 years, noted that "there are always either financial buyers or strategic buyers looking for value opportunities. Anything's possible. To assume anything other than that isn't being realistic."

Industry analysts have said that the sale of Hawker Beechcraft as a single entity remains a more likely proposition than a sale of different pieces.

At a trade show where the word consolidation is being aired frequently at a time when the corporate aviation sector is struggling to get to its feet, Vick acknowledges that although there is lots of discussion about consolidation he thinks it is all speculation.

"In the market downturn that has been experienced globally, is consolidation of the natural course of discussions among business leaders? Absolutely. Will it continue to be discussed? Absolutely. Will we participate in that? Only if it makes sense for the best interests of this company and its shareholders. Until then, it's just speculation," he said.

-By David Pearson, Dow Jones Newswires; +331 4017 1740, david.pearson@dowjones.com

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