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Business jet startups get needed investment

Startup companies struggling to bring new aircraft to market took a step forward with the announcement of new private investment deals. Adam Aircraft, Epic Aircraft and Sino Swearingen Aircraft (SSAC) all say they now have the resources to advance into full production.

After investing some $700 million in development of the SJ30 light jet, SSAC's Taiwanese backers have agreed to sell a controlling stake in the company to a joint venture between UK distributor Action Aviation and private equity firm ACQ Capital.

The SJ30 was certificated in late 2005, but SSAC has delivered only two aircraft because it lacks the funding to ramp up production. ACQ chairman John Sabovich says its investment is "substantial enough to take the aircraft into full production".

Sabovich says SSAC, which will be renamed, has to repair its relationship with suppliers that were "mistreated" during the decades-long stop-start development of the SJ30. The company's Taiwanese backers will retain a minority interest.

Epic announced the expected deal giving Vijay Mallya, chairman of India's Kingfisher Airlines, a 50% stake in return for a reported $200 million personal investment. Airbus customer Kingfisher has asked the European manufacturer to look at helping Epic certificate a range of composite single turboprops and very light jets.

The funds will allow Epic to proceed with certification of the Dynasty turboprop, followed by the single-jet Victory and twin-jet Elite, says chief executive Rick Schramek. Airbus says its involvement is "very preliminary", with a team to visit Epic soon to see if there is benefit in working with the company.

Adam has raised $200 million in equity and debt in the last nine months to revamp production of its A500 piston twin and complete certification of the A700 VLJ, says president Duncan Koerbel. The company "paused" the A500 after 10 deliveries to "productionise the aircraft", but plans to be at three a month by the end of 2008.

"We have made a significant investment in tooling," says Koerbel. Certification and first deliveries of the A700 are planned for 2008, with production to be at full rate roughly a year later. Adam is looking to produce a combined 150-240 aircraft a year.

The difficulties startups face are underlined by Eclipse Aviation, which is only just getting its production system up to speed a year after full certification. "It turned out to be really hard," says chief executive Vern Raburn, citing vendor and other issues.

After redesigning assembly along automotive lines, production of the Eclipse 500 VLJ is approaching one a day - half that originally planned. "We're not where we wanted to be, and we're not out of the woods yet, but it's starting to look good," he says.




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