Ex-Blackwater CEO and former US Navy Seal Erik Prince has deepened his involvement with Kenya’s aviation industry with the acquisition of a 49 per cent stake in Phoenix Aviation.
Frontier Service Group Ltd, of which Mr Prince is the chairman, announced it had invested about $14 million (Sh1.2 billion) in one of the oldest Kenyan aviation companies in a bid to increase its footprint in the country.
The Hong Kong-listed company made the announcement on Monday despite claims by Phoenix Aviation that the deal was yet to be finalised.
“Nothing has been finalised. It’s still in a stage of negotiations,” said Phoenix chairman Bill Parkinson. He refused to shed more light on the deal.
The acquisition of the Wilson Airport-based airline will now anchor Frontier Service Group strategy to be one of the biggest logistics and transportation firms in Kenya and East Africa.
“We believe Phoenix is the best there is in Africa in its sector of aviation. We are delighted to expand our presence within the Kenyan aviation and business communities.
“With Phoenix, a solid foundation is now laid for our on-going expansion as a logistics, transportation and risk management services provider with continent-wide reach,” Frontier Service chief executive Gregg Smith said in a statement.
The announcement comes a couple of months after Frontier Service acquired 49 per cent stake in Kilifi-based Kijipwa Aviation to act as a base for its transport and logistics business. The company plans to acquire a controlling stake in Kijipwa.
In a previous interview with the Business Daily in March, Mr Smith said the company had an $85 million (Sh7.3 billion) cash outlay to grow its African aviation service business, which would be run out of Nairobi.
“We plan to have about 25 aircraft based in Kenya within the next six to eight months,” Mr Smith said.
In the future these aircraft could include unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones.
Phoenix Aviation is one of the bigger private air charter companies based at the Wilson Airport, having been established in 1994. It has a fleet of 13 aircraft and a helicopter and works closely with Amref Flying Doctors Air Ambulance services.
Frontier is looking to tap the demand for logistics and transport in remote areas in the region, especially by Chinese companies working on major infrastructure and mining deals.
It is also targeting to undertake reconnaissance surveillance flights for non-governmental organisations, governments and organisations working in remote areas.
Mr Prince is the founder of the controversial US defence contractor Blackwater that came under fierce criticism over its operations in Iraq at one point.
Mr Prince sold Frontier Service Group in November 2013 to DVN Holdings, which adapted his company’s name and appointed him as chairman.