Investors are considering reviving Grob SPn programƧ

 - February 27, 2009, 11:54 AM

An agreement for German investors to take over the trainer aircraft business of the insolvent Grob Aerospace group might have cleared the way for a separate deal to resurrect the SPn light business jet program. On January 28, Grob’s insolvency administrator, Dr. Michael Jaffe, announced a deal under which H3 Aerospace and the Fortius Mittelstandskapital AG financial group assumed control of the trainer business at Grob’s Tussenhausen-Mattsies site in southern Germany beginning February 1. The financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

In the wake of the long-awaited partial resolution of Grob’s insolvency
proceedings, plans are moving forward whereby one or more of Grob’s main creditors, backed by other undisclosed investors, might take control of the SPn. Following the January 28 creditors’ meeting in Munich, Jaffe indicated that SPn development and production work may stay at Tussenhausen-Mattsies.

According to sources close to the negotiations, prospective investors–including at least one of the company’s creditors and one or more SPn customers–are preparing a takeover plan that involves restructuring the program’s supply chain and restarting marketing activities. Unlike the other creditor-backed plan Jaffe has disclosed, this plan might result in the program being moved across the border from the Grob factory at Tussenhausen-Mattsies to Switzerland, where the also-insolvent Grob Aerospace AG holding group is headquartered.

Industry sources have told AIN that Grob Aerospace AG CEO Niall Olver is willing to lead a plan to restart the program. However, neither Olver nor the company is making any official comment.

Meanwhile, H3 Aerospace has relaunched the old Grob Aerospace training aircraft business under the name Grob Aircraft. This raises the question of whether the Grob name could still be used with the SPn brand–an issue that might spark legal action.
All SPn order contracts were legally dissolved when Grob was officially declared insolvent on Nov. 1, 2008. However, according to the company, only one customer had actually asked to cancel its order for the new aircraft following the company’s provisional insolvency filing on Aug. 18, 2008. Olver worked around the clock to find new backers for Grob before its insolvency was confirmed and he came close to sealing deals with several prospective parties from both inside and outside the aviation industry.

The SPn program attracted buyers for more than 100 copies of the $7.7 million composite twinjet, including 25 ordered by Alpha Flying for its U.S.-based PlaneSense fractional ownership program. The aircraft had been due to complete certification by the end of last year, and Grob was preparing to deliver the first 35 aircraft this year before increasing annual production to 48. Before the insolvency, the company had intended to open a completions and delivery center for the SPn at St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport in Switzerland, which would have opened in this year’s second quarter. Grob also had a U.S. subsidiary based at Portsmouth, N.H., which, before being declared insolvent itself, was handling North American sales and eventually would have taken over product support.

Launched in 2005, the SPn was originally slated to complete certification by the end of the third quarter of 2007. However, the fatal crash of the second prototype aircraft in 2006 caused a delay of at least nine months. Barely two weeks before being forced to declare provisional insolvency after the sudden withdrawal of its main investor, Grob had achieved the first flight of the fourth prototype aircraft and flight testing was well advanced. Germany’s LBA airworthiness authorities were handling the certification on behalf of the EASA.

The SPn is officially classed as a light business jet in terms of weight. However, it offers a significantly larger and more versatile cabin than is normally associated with this class. It was originally conceived partly for utility operations as a replacement for the ubiquitous Beechcraft King Air twin turboprop, and, as such, promises excellent airfield performance.

In the first instance, the resumption of manufacturing and support for the trainers will secure about 100 jobs at the former Grob plant. According to Jaffe, Fortius and H3 are committed to expanding the training aircraft business and expanding employment. Throughout the insolvency process, a core team of employees under the leadership of Andreas Strohmayer had kept the Tussenhausen-Mattsies factory in operational condition.