Federal regulators approve $118 million sale of Anchorage's Era Aviation

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Federal regulators have approved a bid to buy Era Aviation, making completion of the $118.1 million sale possible by the end of the week.

Houston-based Seacor Holdings Inc., which provides transportation and environmental services to offshore oil rigs, struck a deal in October to buy Anchorage-based Era from its parent corporation, Rowan Companies Inc., also from Houston.

Era's main business is providing helicopter services for oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. It also uses its helicopters to fight fires and provide other utility services, and runs flightseeing tours in the summer.

The company's Alaska regional fixed-wing airline has hubs in Anchorage and Bethel and flies passengers and cargo to 24 state destinations. In Kenai, Homer and Valdez, Era is the only regularly scheduled passenger airline. As such, it is bound by federal "essential air service" rules and cannot simply abandon those routes.

Seacor, however, wants to sell that part of the business, and executives from both companies are negotiating with a potential buyer, Chuck Johnson, Era's president, said Tuesday.

"The new owner has stated from the beginning that they don't want to be in the airline business," Johnson said. He said the company plans to continue operating the regional airline until they strike a deal to sell it.

As for the helicopter business, Seacor plans to combine its Tex-Air Helicopters unit with Era and to operate the combined outfit under the Era Aviation banner. Johnson will continue to run the combined company as president.

Its headquarters, however, is being moved to Lake Charles, La., where Era bases its Gulf Coast division, Johnson said.

About 500 of Era's 820 employees are based in Alaska, and the employment base here will shrink after the merger, which is expected to be completed by Friday, Johnson said.

There will be job cuts as the companies consolidate management positions. Some Alaska-based employees also are likely to relocate to the company's new headquarters, Johnson said.

In addition to shifting jobs to Louisiana, Era is scaling back its flightseeing business in Alaska and will close its flightseeing bases in Seward and Valdez. Aside from that, there will be few changes in Alaska after the buyout, Johnson said.

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