Tonkon Torp Pilots Smooth Landing in Columbia Helicopters Sale

Tonkon Torp led one of Oregon's most notable M&A deals of 2019 for its client, Columbia Helicopters.

Founded in 1957, Columbia Helicopters, Inc. (CHI) is one of Oregon's most recognizable brands. The Aurora-based aviation company is perhaps best known for their fleet of heavy-lift Chinook helicopters used in defense, firefighting, and natural resource explorations. Tonkon Torp was initially engaged by CHI to handle litigation nearly 10 years ago. Pleased with the results, CHI began to shift more of its legal work to Tonkon Torp until nearly every practice group in the firm supported the client.

In 2018, a deal to sell CHI was struck with The Bristow Group, a publically traded helicopter company based in Texas. Due to a number of factors unrelated to CHI or the deal, the buyer couldn't finance the transaction and terminated the purchase. Tonkon Torp worked diligently to ensure that disengaging from the deal, which included collecting a $20 million breakup fee, would not hinder CHI's ability to smoothly engage with a new buyer.

Within two months of the scuttled sale, CHI's investment banker had located a solid, solvent buyer in AE Industrial, a private equity firm specializing in aviation markets. Since a substantial amount of legwork for a sale had already been completed, the parties truncated the negotiation process and quickly came to agreement on terms.

Justin Denton led the transaction. Attorneys Tom Palmer, Mark LeRoux (tax), Michael Millender (employee benefits), Jeff Woodcox, Claire Brown, and Elizabeth Judd joined Justin to complete the deal.

Tonkon Torp also worked with an outside law firm to represent CHI employees for certain employment-related documentation required by the new buyer.

The sale closed in August 2019, and CHI expressed a high level of satisfaction for how seamlessly the Tonkon Torp team worked together on the transaction. CHI will retain its Oregon operations, and its relationship with Tonkon Torp continues.

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