Editors' Choice: Earl Robinson rolls with the punches

 - May 28, 2008, 7:26 AM

In boxing parlance, you might say Earl Robinson can take a punch. The former Fairchild Dornier executive absorbed a series of setbacks this year in his struggle to field a new family of regional jets under the Alliance Aircraft brand name, but every time he looked beaten, Robinson’s persistence would spark yet another glimmer of hope.

After entering the year heavily in debt and still smarting from Sukhoi’s decision to opt out of a proposed risk-sharing agreement that would have given Alliance the funding to proceed with its plans to build a family of jets ranging from 70- to 110 seats in capacity, Robinson piqued the interest of yet another potential partner, this time in China. The contract, announced during June’s Paris Air Show, would give Harbin Aircraft exclusive production rights for the 35-seat StarLiner 100-35 and responsibility for building Chinese versions of the 44- and 50-seat StarLiners, known as the SL-100-44 and SL-100-50.

By last month the Chinese had sent eight engineers to Alliance’s temporary facilities in Martinsburg, W.Va., in preparation for the proposed technology transfer. Now occupying a 30,000-sq-ft office building at Martinsburg’s John D. Rockefeller Industrial Park, Alliance moved to the site from temporary offices in Dover, N.H., after local officials refused to offer Robinson further financial incentives to build a new plant at the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H.

Alliance’s money shortages led to a series of legal claims filed by disgruntled creditors, including an engineering vendor, a hotel chain and the city of Dover. In October Alliance reached an agreement to settle an outstanding debt with its largest creditor–Rocket Science Computer Services–after a Superior Court judge in Brentwood, N.H., issued a capias for Robinson’s arrest. As part of a court agreement, under which the judge held the warrant in abeyance, Alliance paid Rocket Science a portion of the $335,000 owed for computer services performed and agreed to a new payment schedule that calls for installments every two weeks.

Lawyers for the plaintiff informed the court that the Strafford County, N.H. Superior Court in August issued a separate capias for the arrest of Robinson based on a debt of nearly $40,000 to MacIntosh Personnel Services. Alliance has since paid its debt to MacIntosh in full.

Robinson met in China with Harbin Aircraft and Chinese government officials last month in an effort to close the $1.1 billion co-production agreement. However, at press time the Chinese had yet to formally approve the deal.