American Utilicraft continues Freight Feeder development

 - March 15, 2007, 7:54 AM

Thirteen years after American Utilicraft filed patents for its FF-1080 Freight Feeder, “the project is moving from the design engineering phase to getting ready to start cutting metal on the prototype,” said company president and CEO John Dupont last month. Though the aftermath of 9/11 slowed development by the Lawrenceville, Ga. startup, Dupont added, he now expects a preproduction model to be airborne in about a year. “Eighteen months after that, our first production model should be certified and ready to go,” he said, noting that “we should have some major, major announcements to make at the NBAA convention” in Las Vegas next month. “We’re probably 30 months from delivering our first airplanes if we stay on schedule,” Dupont concluded.

If so–and if this all-aluminum twin-engine turboprop lives up to the company’s claims– the aircraft could eventually have a significant effect on the air-cargo business, particularly in European, African and Asian markets. That’s largely because the FF-1080 features short takeoff and landing capability that makes it well suited to cost-effectively transport standard industry air containers on short-to medium-range routes and to airfields with less than 3,000 feet of runway.

“Containers that now have to be delivered to hubs on trucks can be transported on this aircraft,” Dupont said. He added that the FF-1080 features an integrated, patented air-cargo-information system “that lets us know exactly what’s on board and sort it by delivery ZIP code.”

Recent developments with the FF-1080

• In July, American Utilicraft reconfirmed its appointment of Aviation Insurance Services of Nevada to provide risk-management and insurance services for the project.

• In June, the company announced a 2-for-1 split of its stock (symbol: AMUC.PK), which trades over the counter. (In mid-August, the stock was selling for around 60 cents–less than 40 percent of its 52-week high of $1.60. Its 52-week low was 20 cents.)

• Also in June, American Utilicraft and Global Air Group of Brisbane, Australia, signed a letter of intent for the latter firm to purchase 50 FF-1080 Freight Feeders, with an option to buy 50 more. American Utilicraft estimates the value of the deal to be $1.2 billion, including support, spare parts and a training package. The manufacturer is also negotiating an agreement that would give Global Air exclusive rights for sales and support in Europe and Africa. Dupont “absolutely” expects to finalize these deals by early fall and added, “That’s one of the major announcements we’ll be talking about at NBAA.”

• Rounding out its June announcements, American Utilicraft said it had entered into contract negotiations with Metalcraft Technologies of Cedar City, Utah, for the manufacture of the fuselage for the FF-1080 flight-test and production aircraft. The companies expect to finalize an agreement for construction of the center fuselage section of a prototype aircraft “very soon,” according to Dupont.

• In February, the TSAY Corp., which is owned by the Pueblo Indian tribe in Santa Fe, N.M., announced a memorandum of understanding with American Utilicraft to build an $11 million, 80,000-sq-ft final assembly building for the FF-1080 near Santa Fe. In return for this investment, TSAY will have an $11 million equity position in American Utilicraft.

• As reported earlier in AIN, American Utilicraft announced in January that WSI Hong Kong would purchase the first production lot of 36 FF-1080s. The companies also signed a letter of intent that would give WSI exclusive distributorship rights for the
Far East, including Australia, China, India, Japan and Malaysia. The letter of intent includes WSI’s acquisition of up to 300 of the aircraft. Initial deliveries are anticipated to begin in 2006, if American Utilicraft begins construction of its pre-production prototype this year.