The Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is on the brink of joining forces with one of the world’s biggest private equity investors to mount a £3bn takeover bid for a provider of services to private jet owners.

Sky News has learnt that Cascade Investment, a vehicle which manages part of Mr Gates’ personal wealth, and Blackstone were on Thursday night close to agreeing the basis on which they would make a joint offer for Signature Aviation.

Through Cascade, Mr Gates owns roughly 20% of Signature, giving the billionaire a pivotal say in the outcome of a looming takeover battle for the company.

If they do finalise an agreement about making a joint offer, Blackstone and Mr Gates could make a statement confirming the arrangement to the London Stock Exchange as soon as Friday morning.

Signature has been in play since last month, when it emerged that the company had received a series of indicative proposals from Blackstone, as well as a lower offer from Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a former owner of London’s Gatwick Airport.

On Thursday, Signature confirmed it had received an approach from a third potential bidder, Carlyle, which Sky News revealed had enlisted two Wall Street banks to advise it on a takeover bid.

Shares in Signature closed on Thursday at 417.9p, giving the company a market value of £3.32bn – well ahead of the 386p-a-share price proposed by Blackstone last month.

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Previously known as BBA Aviation, Signature traces its roots back to the late 19th century, and now provides bases and services to private jet-owners.

Signature is chaired by Sir Nigel Rudd, the veteran industrialist who has presided over a string of takeovers of big British corporate names during his long career.

Blackstone, Cascade and Signature all declined to comment.


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