Reports of the demise of the Loadmaster program are unfounded, according to Russ Heil, CEO of Ayres Corp., the Albany, Ga.-based agplane OEM and developer of the Loadmaster. It’s true that in its second quarter 2001 financial statement FedEx stated it had taken a write-off on the Loadmaster and that one FedEx official said the airplane wouldn’t be built. However, it’s not true that FedEx has cancelled its 1996 order for 250 Loadmasters (50 firm and 200 optioned, later changed to 75 firm and 175 optioned), said Heil, who was appointed CEO by GATX Capital after Ayres declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 27 last year. Ayres, still legally owned by founder Fred Ayres, owes GATX about $22 million, Heil told AIN.
According to Heil, GATX, a finance and leasing company, does not want to continue as an OEM and is in negotiations with several parties interested in acquiring the assets of Ayres. These assets include the company’s facilities, tooling and intellectual property to the Loadmaster and Turbo-Thrush agplane. “It will be the decision of the successful bidder whether or not to continue the Loadmaster program or try to sell it,” Heil said. GATX, which has been providing debtor-in-possession financing to Ayres, is expected to complete the foreclosure process on August 7.
Employment at Ayres is down from about 160 when Heil took over to about 65 today. The company is still building and delivering Turbo-Thrush agplanes, at a reduced rate of about one a month, and doing subcontract work for Boeing. But work on the Loadmaster has slowed in Albany and stopped completely at Let in the Czech Republic. Let was contracted to build most of the Loadmaster’s airframe components, while Ayres would handle final assembly.
Ayres bought debt-ridden Let in August 1998 after a year of negotiations. At that time Let’s assets totaled more than $110 million, according to an Ayres’ press release, and Ayres was to assume Let’s long-term debt. Let subsequently declared bankruptcy on October 25 last year after two years under Ayres management. Last month, the Czech bankruptcy court and Let’s main creditors agreed to sell the company for about 140 million Czech crowns (about $3.5 million) to Moravan, another Czech airplane manufacturer (see related story on page 8). According to a Let official at the Paris Air Show, Let owes its creditors about 2.5 billion Czech crowns ($65 million).