UK firm invests in Sino Swearingen

 - November 1, 2007, 5:08 AM

Production activity at San Antonio-based jet developer Sino Swearingen Aircraft has not yet picked up since the company announced at the NBAA Convention that it has secured new investors. Owned primarily by the Taiwanese government, Sino Swearingen has delivered just two SJ30s since the airplane received FAA type certification two years ago; the latest delivery occurred at the NBAA show in Atlanta in September. At NBAA, Action Aviation Investors (AAI) announced that it is planning to buy a controlling interest in Sino Swearingen and provide funds to help the company ramp up SJ30 production to meet an order backlog of 274 airplanes.

AAI is a joint venture between real-estate investment firm ACQ Capital and Action Aviation, a UK-based SJ30 distributor chaired by Hamish Harding, buyer of the second SJ30 delivered at the NBAA Convention.

Long-term Investment
Harding said he couldn’t provide many details at this point because although AAI signed a purchase agreement with Sino Swearingen’s majority owners in Taiwan before the NBAA Convention, the transaction was not finalized as of the middle of last month.

Neither Harding nor John Sabovich, chairman of ACQ Capital of Brentwood, Calif., would say how much they have invested or plan to invest in Sino Swearingen, but they have said they are buying more than 51 percent of the company.

Harding acknowledges that the big challenge facing Sino Swearingen is producing airplanes and obtaining an FAA production certificate, which makes final airworthiness certification of each airplane much more efficient. Industry estimates on the amount of money needed to reach those goals suggest hundreds of millions of dollars, but Harding won’t comment on the financial aspects of AAI’s plans. He does anticipate some kind of supplier conference to get vendors back on board producing components needed to ramp up production of the SJ30. No changes are planned for the existing manufacturing setup, with major airframe structure built at a facility in Martinsburg, W.Va., and final assembly in San Antonio.

“We have tremendous demand for the aircraft that we have to satisfy,” Harding said. “It’s a long-term [project], and that is very much our goal, desire and plan.”
The SJ30 occupies its own niche in the business jet market. Harding said, “There are many other good light jets, but none reaches anywhere near this range or speed. No aircraft at any level of business jet has managed to get a 12-psi cabin, thereby having a sea-level cabin to 41,000 feet.…Even at the 49,000-foot ceiling, the cabin is at only 1,800 feet.”

Building a new jet manufacturing company is challenging and costly. News reports claim that the Taiwan government has spent about $700 million on the SJ30 program and that more still will have to be spent to reach a reasonable production rate. It remains to be seen whether AAI’s investment will help Sino Swearingen make it into the small club of financially healthy manufacturers of business jets.
Richard Aboulafia, v-p of analysis at consulting firm Teal Group, isn’t so sure. “Can the SJ30 be salvaged?” he asked. “Not by the current owners, unless they have several hundred million dollars they don’t mind risking. At least one established manufacturer–Bombardier–could use an aircraft in this class, but that’s an outside chance, at best.”