NBAA 2008: Grob up for grabs

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Embattled airframer Grob is poised for a dramatic rescue from insolvency, after chief executive Niall Olver revealed he has a memorandum of understanding with an unnamed financial backer.

“We have signed a document and I am confident that we will be able to make an announcement within a week,” Olver told Flight Evening News in a telephone interview yesterday.

The German-based maker of the SPn all-composite light jet – which filed for insolvency August 18 after its main financial backer withdrew support – pulled out of exhibiting at Orlando at the last minute as efforts continued to find a savior.

ExecuJet boss Olver, who led a buyout of the aircraft manufacturer two years ago, said several OEMs had been “hovering” hoping to pick up the design rights to the SPn. However, Olver is convinced the company, which has a long heritage of building specialist aerobatic training aircraft, can be sold as a going concern.

Although the SPn has a 120-strong orderbook, the jet has been dogged by problems during its certification process, including a crash of the second prototype in November 2006, which killed the test pilot. Four SPns are currently in test flight and, prior to the insolvency, the factory at Tussenhausen-Mattsies was gearing up for production ahead of expected certification in the final quarter.

Three weeks ago, the company was dealt a further blow when Bombardier scrapped a deal for Grob to build the prototype for the Learjet 85 midsize jet at Tussenhausen-Mattsies. Bombardier had been mooted as a possible suitor for the business.

This summer’s purchase by Dubai-based Emivest of a majority stake in Sino Swearingen, and the move by Indian giant Tata to invest in Italy’s Piaggio – in which Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Corporation is already a shareholder – have raised hopes that investors from the Middle East and Asia are still willing to finance cash-starved aviation ventures in Europe and North America.