Graham Swannell, CEO; Donald Joseph, president; and Geoffrey Danes, director of operations, research and development–the three principals of Explorer Aircraft–had expected to move into the company’s 14,000-sq-ft “certification facility” in an industrial park on Jasper County (Texas) Bell Field over Christmas. That didn’t happen, but the facility is now nearly finished and three owner/directors plan to move in “this month or next,” Joseph told AIN, sounding little concerned about the delay.
“Our main focus right now is raising more capital,” he said, echoing an increasingly common lament among the airplane OEM startups. “Raising capital is never easy, so we haven’t seen a lot of change since September 11. Private investors have a very cautious mindset. Everyone still wants to see the level of returns they were getting from the dot-coms when they were still hot, which you can never get from an airplane company. We need investors who are willing to go in for the long term. The people who were with us during the initial stages are still here.”
Although development of the Explorer airplane itself is at a standstill, Joseph said the project is making steady progress. “We’ve relocated from Denver to Texas, we’re getting the building completed and our funding prospects look good.”
The sole Explorer airplane prototype, now powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 (it first flew powered by a Continental IO-550 piston engine), is being flown for demonstrations, but not flight test. “We took it to Sun ’n’ Fun in Florida,” said Joseph, “but didn’t put it in the manufacturer’s display area. Just parked it on the ramp. It got a lot of interest anyway.”
Prices for the three Explorer models, all in 2001 dollars, are 500R (Orenda V8), $820,000; 500T (PT6A), $1.035 million; and 750T (PT6A with stretched fuselage), $1.16 million. Explorer has yet to log any orders but soon plans to announce its sales program on its Web site (www.exploreraircraft.com), said Joseph.