Onex completes Westjet purchase

A Westjet Boeing 737 departs Vancouver International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah)

A little more than 20 years after he tried to buy and merge Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International, Toronto financier Gerry Schwartz finally owns an airline.

His Onex Corporation announced Wednesday that it had completed its $5 billion bid to buy Westjet.

Shareholders will receive $31 each, and shares will be de-listed from the Toronto Stock Exchange as Onex takes its new airline private. However, they will miss out on a planned December 31 dividend payment.

The final hurdle was cleared Tuesday when the Canadian Transportation Agency, the airline regulator, decided Onex was sufficiently Canadian to meet domestic ownership rules. Foreigners are allowed to own up to 49% of Canadian airlines, but control must remain in domestic hands.

Westjet executives have said the move will allow them to complete their transition plan, from a low-cost North American carrier to a globally-connected network airline.

As part of that transition, Westjet has been expanding and consolidating international connections at its Calgary hub, dominating traffic at the Prairie city in the process.

In 1999, Onex tried to buy Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International, which was hobbled by crippling debt. The deal would have happened with the backing of American Airlines, but fell through when a court ruled against the proposal. Air Canada later bought its Alberta rival, and merged the operations into the airline that exists today.

Categories: Westjet

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