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The flight school formerly known as Bristow Academy is once again under new ownership.
Founded in 1987 as Helicopter Adventures Inc., the school was acquired by the offshore giant Bristow Group in 2007 and renamed Bristow Academy. In late 2017, citing a desire to streamline its operations in the midst of a “historic” downturn in the oil-and-gas market, Bristow sold the academy — headquartered in Titusville, Florida — to a group of investors who changed the name to U.S. Aviation Training Solutions (USATS).
Now, International Defense and Aerospace Group (IDAG) president and CEO Bob Caldwell has revealed that USATS is being acquired by IDAG.
“We saw an opportunity and we jumped on it,” Caldwell told Vertical in early February, a few weeks before the deal was expected to close. USATS, he said, is “what we consider to be the gold standard in aviation training . . . We want to bring it back to prominence.”
Caldwell said that USATS will be a good fit for IDAG’s existing lines of business, which already include FlightTrails Academy in Budapest, Hungary. Beyond flight training, IDAG specializes in buying and selling aircraft, aviation consulting, and providing logistical support and services. The company holds government contracts in central and eastern Europe — including one to support the Hungarian National Police’s fleet of MD 902s — and is an authorized sales representative for MD Helicopters Inc. in the region.
IDAG was also one of the first commercial companies to acquire surplus Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. Army, and plans to add training for the model to the offerings at USATS, with a focus on serving the growing commercial Black Hawk market. “There are instructors out there who love the aircraft and want to continue flying the aircraft,” he said. “We’re looking to expand the envelope and bring in a diverse group of aircraft and people from around the world.”
However, Caldwell said he doesn’t foresee a move away from USATS’ primary training helicopter, the S-300, which was acquired from Sikorsky in January 2018
by Schweizer RSG. USATS operates 25 of the model, in addition to a smaller number of Robinson R22, R44, and Bell 206B3
“We absolutely plan on sticking with the S-300,” Caldwell told Vertical, noting that “IDAG and USATS have a very long history, trust and comfort level with the Schweizer 300 series.” Although Schweizer RSG has been relatively quiet since acquiring the S-300 line, “we wouldn’t have bought [USATS] if we didn’t think they could sustain the aircraft,” Caldwell said.
While the school’s primary focus has always been on helicopter pilot training, it also offers fixed-wing instruction in Cessna 172 and Diamond DA42 airplanes, and has a rotor transition program for the growing number of helicopter pilots who are pursuing airline careers. Caldwell said he would like to further expand this part of the business, “holding the same standard of excellence” that is associated with the school’s helicopter programs.
The company is also pursuing a number of government pilot training contracts both in the U.S. and around the world, he said. “There’s a lot of discussion and a tremendous amount of activity on the business development side.”
He emphasized, however, that current students shouldn’t see any disruption in their training as IDAG assumes ownership of the academy. The aircraft won’t change, and existing personnel will remain in place, including the school’s longstanding director, Todd Smith.
“It will be seamless,” Caldwell promised.