Despite Setbacks, Aviation Alliance Moving Forward With 421, GIII Remanufacturing Programs

 - July 2, 2014, 3:40 AM

The plan announced last year by The Aviation Alliance to remanufacture Cessna 421Cs and Gulfstream IIIs is moving forward, according to company founder and managing director Geoff Miller, despite setbacks that have caused some delays. The California-based company is currently focusing on the Excalibur 421 turboprop conversion and hopes to have one completed in time for this year’s NBAA show in Orlando in October. The GIII FanStream re-engining program, meanwhile, will be next in line and will likely require an engine different from the one originally targeted.

The Excalibur 421 program was announced early last year, and the Alliance was designed to act as general contractor for the program, pulling together companies and people with the required skills to design, build and market the converted airplanes. These included Jack Pelton, former chairman, president and CEO of Cessna; Colin Judge, former v-p of The Jet Center of Van Nuys, Calif.; Maj. Gen. Doug Pearson, former commanding general of Edwards Air Force Base and v-p director of flight-test for the Lockheed Martin F-35 program; Tom Nixon, who was chief engineer of Sensor Systems, American Aviation Industries and Volpar; Corey Schlossmann, former senior tax partner at Price Waterhouse and partner at Gordon, Fishburn & Schlossmann; Ventura Aerospace, which was going to be responsible for engineering, flight-test and certification; Capital Aviation (interiors and paint); Oklahoma Jet Support Center (engine and systems installations); and Clay Lacy Aviation (sales and marketing).

Cash Flow Hesitation, Partners Out

According to Miller, some of the people and partners originally behind the program are no longer associated with the Alliance, and the original funder of the 421 effort has backed out. The provider of funds for the GIII program stepped up to back the 421 program as well, according to Miller. “That’s why there was a hesitation in the cash flow.”

Ventura Aerospace is no longer associated with the Alliance, according to Mike Snow, vice president of Ventura’s Aircraft Technical Service division, who said, “We have terminated our relationship with them.” Snow added that The Aviation Alliance owes money to Ventura “and quite honestly we don’t expect to see it.”

Pelton told AIN, “I stopped working for them, and others left also early last year, when they ran out of money and stopped paying me.”

Miller said that Judge, Pearson and Nixon are still working with The Alliance program. He is discussing the technical side of the program with two other companies capable of producing dozens of remanufactured airframes per year but doesn’t want to identify them before striking an agreement. An aircraft broker is on tap for sales and marketing. As for Ventura Aerospace, Miller said the Alliance is paying the company what it is owed.

The 421 development program, which replaces the Continental geared piston engines with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135As and adds aerodynamic refinements, new avionics, bleed-air heat, new MT five-blade propellers, fresh paint and new interior, was originally budgeted to cost $4 million. But development costs have ballooned to a projected $7.5 million, Miller said, in part because much of the Jack Riley re-engining STC that The Alliance bought had to be redone.

“The [designated engineering representative] signed off on stuff back in the 1970s that would never work today,” he said. “[For example], wire bundles going through the wings without any grommets, just laying on the stringers. The fuel system was insane.” The Riley STC retained the original avgas-powered Janitrol cabin heater, calling for installation of a separate avgas fuel tank. The Alliance plan will eliminate the Janitrol heater and use bleed air from the PT6s. Plans also call for new fuselage strakes, winglets, vortex generators and aerodynamic wheel hubcaps. Max takeoff weight will be increased by 300 pounds as well. The cockpit will be fitted with Garmin G950 avionics and the interior will feature an enclosable flushing toilet.

The final result will be a turboprop 421C selling for $2.6 million, with a top speed of nearly 330 ktas and full-fuel payload of 780 pounds, allowing carriage of four nearly 200-pound people for 1,435 nm with IFR reserves.

Despite the low prices for used aircraft, Miller still sees a strong market for re-engined 421s and eventually also Cessna 414s. “100 low-lead [avgas] is on its way out,” he noted. “Avionics are getting really old. I predicted this years and years ago, and the remanufacturing industry is all of a sudden becoming a major deal.”

The GIII program aims to re-engine and upgrade the Gulfstream airframe with quieter and more powerful engines, new avionics, refurbished interior and fresh paint. “At first we were going to use the Rolls-Royce BR710,” Miller said. “We looked at the GE CF34 growth engine, but it would not go to 45,000 feet.” The Alliance also contemplated using the Snecma Silvercrest, especially because Snecma flew a test engine on a GII, but he said the Silvercrest “doesn’t have enough steam” for the GIII. Now Miller is hoping to swap out the GIII’s original Rolls-Royce Speys with new P&W geared turbofans that will boost range to more than 5,000 nm and meet current noise regulations.

Remanufactured older Gulfstream airframes will have to compete with lower-priced used GIVs that become more attractive every day. According to the Vref Aircraft Value Reference, 1986 through 1992 GIVs retail for $3.4 to $4.7 million. Whether there is a large enough market for used but freshly remanufactured Gulfstreams that will bump up to the cost of good used GIVs remains to be seen. However, Nextant Aerospace has proved that there is a market for remanufactured jets that add significant performance boosts with the 400XTi conversion of the Beechjet 400/Hawker 400XP, so there may yet be life in those old Gulfstreams.