Thursday, February 5, 2009

With new deal, Lancair is flying high

Colombian Air Force will get 25 planes in company’s largest deal ever

Redmond kit plane manufacturer Lancair International Inc. announced a $6.5 million licensing deal Tuesday that will allow a Colombian company to build 25 Lancair aircraft for the Colombian Air Force for pilot training.

The deal with the Colombian Aviation Industry Corp. marks Lancair’s largest deal ever, according to Lancair General Manager Tim Ong.“What’s novel about the deal is most military training occurs in certificated planes, but by purchasing kit planes and completing them in Colombia, their Air Force will get a relatively high performance training aircraft at a very reasonable cost,” said Max Trescott, a Mountain View, Calif.-based aviation industry consultant. “It looks like a very good deal for everyone involved.”Kit planes, or planes built from kits, can be certified airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration if they are at least 51 percent built by the plane’s owner. Customers are responsible for getting the planes certified by the FAA. 

This differs from manufacturers, whose planes are certified by the FAA before they’re sold.Due to the growing demands for new technology, such as carbon composite materials, the FAA has proposed more stringent manufacturing regulations for kit planes.The Lancair planes built in Colombia will not be subject to FAA regulation.

The deal helps Lancair’s bottom line, Ong said, but he added that the company has not been buffeted by the recession as much as other airplane manufacturers. Ong said new orders are down, but a backlog of orders as well as the newly announced deal means the company is likely to weather 2009 “in good shape.”To prove the point, Ong said Lancair is hiring. Many airplane manufacturers, including industry giants Cessna Aircraft Co. and Hawker Beechcraft Corp., both based in Wichita, Kan., have recently laid off thousands of employees.The Colombian deal calls for Lancair to fabricate the planes’ carbon composite components either at its plant in Redmond or its fabrication facility in the Philippines. All of the planes’ components will then be shipped to Colombia for final assembly.Ong said the Colombian Air Force currently uses older, aluminum-frame Cessna trainers that have suffered corrosion damage on account of the humidity where the trainers are based. A switch to planes made from carbon composite materials eliminates the threat of corrosion, Ong said.

Plans call for the completion of one aircraft per month in Colombia, beginning Aug. 15, and increasing to two per month by the end of the year, according to the company.The model licensed to Colombia is a variant of the company’s Legacy FG model. The new aircraft, which exists on paper only, features a wing that’s 15 percent bigger than the Legacy FG wing, leading-edge cuffs and a ventral fin, all design attributes that provide stability in flight, Ong said.“The whole point is they want to develop infrastructure, create jobs, (provide) economic development and also bring in core engineering jobs; and, second, they have to replace their fleet of trainers anyway so it was not that much more expensive to do it this way,” Ong said.Lancair was founded in Southern California in 1984 by Lance Neibauer, a graphic artist who helped pioneer the use of composite materials in aircraft construction. 

The company moved to Redmond in 1991. It later spun off the manufacturing of FAA-certified, factory-built planes into a separate company — Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing Co. — which Cessna bought out of bankruptcy in 2007.

According to the company, Lancair has delivered more than 2,000 kit airplanes. It employs 54 people at its plant neighboring the Redmond Airport and approximately 90 at its plant in the Philippines, Ong said.

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