New owners focus on piston singles and discuss Century Jet acquisition as part of company transformation

Mooney Aerospace Group has stopped work on the JetCruzer 500 push turboprop as it focuses on attempts to transform itself into a major general aviation manufacturer. The long-delayed single-turboprop business aircraft project was finally halted after the company failed to meet noise regulations.

The company, formerly Advanced Aerodynamics & Structures (AASI), has been under new management since industry veteranRoy Norris acquired bankrupt light-aircraft manufacturer Mooney last month. The company is restarting production of Mooney four-seat piston singles while negotiating to acquire six-seat piston singles and twins, believed to be the Raytheon Bonanza and Baron, and rights to the Century Jet entry-level business jet design.

The new management had already announced JetCruzer certification would be delayed by 30 months by a redesign to reduce weight and cost. Norris says the programme was finally shelved after he uncovered noise concerns and ordered tests which showed the canard-pusher turboprop was 2.9dB above US Federal Aviation Administration noise limits.

Because the noise is a result of turbulent air from the fuselage hitting the propeller, there is no simple solution, says Norris. JetCruzer work on has been suspended, and the $10,000 deposits placed by over 160 customers will be refunded, he says. Deposit holders have been offered the option of transferring their order to a Mooney or a Century Jet, with a 3% discount.

The company plans to deliver 20 Mooneys this year and reach a 100 aircraft a year production rate by the beginning of 2003. The business plan calls for Mooney to be profitable by the middle of next year, Norris says. This will be achieved by reducing manufacturing costs by one-fifth, and marketing costs will be cut from a quarter of the aircraft's price to 7% by dropping dealers in favour of direct sales. Norris also says that a "significant" price cut will be announced later in the year to drive sales.

Norris says that he is "close" to an agreement on the acquisition of the Century Jet programme. The project will require less than $100 million to take the aircraft to production, which will take three years. Turboprop-powered versions of the Mooney designs and to-be-acquired six-seat singles and twins are also planned.

Norris says the company is concluding negotiations with a "major New York bank" to fund its expansion plans. The acquisition of Mooney was funded by AASI's major investor, LH Financial.

Source: Flight International