Share Owners of ex-Avantair Aircraft Get Pathway Forward
Bankruptcy hearings for Avantair held last month in Tampa, Fla., brought some needed good news for share owners of the 56 ex-Avantair Piaggio Avantis who are hoping to return their aircraft to the sky. During one of the hearings, the Italian aircraft manufacturer unveiled a Service Bulletin (SB) that provides a path for owners of these Avantis to regain their airworthiness certificates, which were revoked by the FAA in late July and August. Meanwhile, the Avantair bankruptcy trustee and judge overseeing the case are working on an “omnibus” plan that would simplify the procedures for share owners to take possession of their aircraft.
These 56 Avantis haven’t flown since early June, when Avantair shut down after a whistleblower complaint about inadequate tracking of swapped life-limited parts by the now-defunct Clearwater, Fla.-based fractional provider. The aircraft were officially grounded by the FAA when the agency revoked their airworthiness certificates.
During a hearing on September 11, Piaggio released a 22-page mandatory SB that outlines inspections needed for the ex-Avantair aircraft to regain airworthiness certification. The bulletin includes a list of “documentary, physical and functional checks deemed necessary to demonstrate the airworthiness of the airplane.” There are three main parts to the document: verification of aircraft documentation; maintenance checks after prolonged inactivity; and functional checks.
According to Piaggio, complying with the SB will require approximately 40 man-hours, in addition to 130 man-hours required by a “Piaggio team of supervisory technicians.” However, this estimate of labor hours does not include any maintenance needed to correct discrepancies revealed or to accomplish compliance with other SBs or Airworthiness Directives. In addition, the document does not provide any estimates for part and labor costs.
Owner Access To Aircraft
Meanwhile, Avantair trustee Mary Beth Scharrer, her counsel Lynn Sherman and Middle Florida Bankruptcy Court judge Catherine McEwen started formulating an omnibus plan that would eventually allow Avantair share owners to regain possession of their aircraft. An automatic stay that was intended to protect Avantair’s assets during bankruptcy proceedings had the unintentional side effect of depriving share owners of access to their aircraft–which, with the exception of a few Avantis with unsold shares, are not owned by Avantair–much less repossessing them.
Judge McEwen granted a motion last month that provides share owners with “reasonable access” to their aircraft for inspection and maintenance and allows them to pay any outstanding liens or hangar fees. Since each Avantair aircraft can have up to 16 share owners, McEwen said the group of owners for each Avanti will have to designate one person to have access to the airplane “during normal business hours,” so that companies with several ex-Avantair aircraft in their possession, such as New Jersey-based Part 145 repair station Teterboro Rams, aren’t besieged by multiple share owners demanding access to the same aircraft.
Teterboro Rams, which has mechanics’ liens on four of the former Avantair turboprop twins, is “in negotiations with two groups [of owners] to release the liens on two of the aircraft,” Rams co-owner Dennis Espinosa told AIN. The owners of the other two Avantis in Rams’ possession are “kind of in disarray,” he said, and if no agreement is reached beforehand, the company intends to seek approval in Bergen County Court on October 19 to auction the aircraft. McEwen removed a stay last month that had prevented Rams from auctioning the aircraft in September, as initially planned. “We’ll get the date [of the auction] from the sheriff’s department,” Espinosa noted.
The omnibus plan, which would ultimately allow share owners to take physical possession of their aircraft, was still being developed at press time. According to a discussion during the September 11 hearing, owners who have inspected their aircraft and made whole known lienholders would be able to file a motion for possession after following certain procedures. That motion, according to McEwen, would “start the clock” on a 21-day waiting period intended to allow others to file claims against the aircraft. If no claims are made within those 21 days, the aircraft would finally be released to the owners.
In other news, the trustee’s depositions of the Avantair executives were canceled last month and will be rescheduled. In addition, the leaseholder of Avantair’s Clearwater headquarters asked the court to pressure the Avantair trustee to have the company’s assets removed from the premises by October 1, a schedule Scharrer said was impossible since $1 million worth of Avanti parts need to be moved–and “not by just any plain old moving company.” Scharrer told the judge that she would try to have Avantair’s assets removed by October 15, but said even that date might be too optimistic.