Selling Off Avantair, Piece by Piece

Aviation International News » February 2014
Avantair auction
There were nearly 900 lots ups for sale at the Avantair bankruptcy auction on January 10, including components such as pilot and passenger seats. (Photo: Chad Trautvetter)
February 1, 2014, 4:10 AM

A no-reserve auction held on January 10 in a warehouse just a mile from Avantair’s former Clearwater (Fla.) Airport headquarters raised a “couple of million” dollars for the estate of the bankrupt fractional aircraft company, according to auctioneer Starman Bros. Auctions. Citing rules under bankruptcy laws, auctioneer president Steve Starman told AIN that he couldn’t provide a more detailed account of the funds raised. The counsel for Avantair’s bankruptcy trustee didn’t respond to AIN’s queries asking for a more accurate figure.

The auction, which lasted 12.5 hours, included almost 900 lots, comprising more than 10,000 individual bits and pieces. In reality, anything that wasn’t nailed down at Avantair’s Clearwater headquarters or parts depot in Orlando was up for sale at the auction.

Items sold ranged from office supplies and furniture to avionics to aircraft parts/components to shop tools to aircraft tugs. Notable items included a custom motorcycle (with Avantair’s name and logo stitched into the suede leather seat) that sold for $5,000, a Piaggio Avanti fuselage that went for $6,000 and a Cirrus II flight simulator that sold for $800. The highest winning bid for any single item was for a new, and complete, Aircell ATG 5000 datacom system, which sold for $45,000.

Buyer Beware

The FAA issued a special written order to bidders warning about the questionable airworthiness of the aircraft parts and avionics up for auction. “The FAA’s ongoing investigation of Avantair raises serious concerns about the airworthiness of aircraft it has owned, leased or managed,” according to the FAA document, dated January 9. “Concerns about the airworthiness of these aircraft and the reliability of the maintenance records are based in large part on the difficulty Avantair had tracking the time of life-limited parts that were subject to scheduled overhauls.

“These concerns were a primary reason for Avantair to ground its fleet in the autumn of 2012. Additionally, Avantair itself stated that it ceased operations again on June 6, 2013, due to uncertainty about the proper tracking of its life-limited parts. Avantair noted that it improperly tracked some life-limited parts due to improper entry in, and/or improper usage of, its maintenance tracking system.

“Even if the maintenance records for parts previously installed on the subject aircraft appear complete and accurate, the airworthiness of parts is at best questionable,” the FAA order continues. In addition, “Many of the subject aircraft may not have been operated for long periods. It is not clear from a review of the aircraft maintenance records whether Avantair…did all that was necessary to preserve aircraft components during these periods of nonoperation. Therefore, there is concern about the airworthiness of non-time-limited parts as well.”

However, the FAA said that its suspension of airworthiness certificates for all 56 of the former Avantair Piaggio Avantis in September “does not necessarily prevent the use or sale of parts from those aircraft.” The FAA order then lists the various steps needed to return Avantair aircraft and their parts back to airworthiness condition. Starman Bros., which specializes in aviation auctions, sold the parts “as-is and with all faults,” without any warranties or guarantees.

Buyers Turn Out

Still, that didn’t keep buyers away from the auction. There were more than 250 registered bidders–a crowd that included Piaggio Avanti operators looking for specific parts, avionics and aircraft parts resellers, Avantair creditors, former Avantair employees and aircraft services company owners. Those that AIN spoke to at the auction said they would go on record only if kept anonymous.

An owner of a charter operator in Florida complained that Avantair owed his company more than $37,000 for outsourced charter flights before the fractional provider went under. “I feel like I should just be able to walk around the auction warehouse and get to pick out $37,000 in stuff to be recompensed,” he said. “I know that’s not how the bankruptcy process works, but we’re a small company and I really can’t easily absorb this kind of loss.” But he didn’t walk away empty-handed at the auction; he bought an aircraft tug (an identical model that his company already owns but can’t find parts for) for $1,200, as well as several aircraft maintenance lifts, ladders, toolboxes and other mechanics’ tools.

Just before the auction started at 9 a.m., AIN caught up with two buyers from a Midwest avionics wholesaler who were scanning the rows of shelves for specific serial-numbered units. These buyers were extremely well prepared–they had a printed multi-page “hit list” complete with avionics part model numbers, serial numbers and estimated wholesale and retail prices. They knew what they wanted and just how much they’d pay for the units–and they left the auction with a truckload of avionics.

A former Avantair training pilot who’s currently the aviation manager for a Midwest charter operator with a pair of Avantis in its fleet was simply looking for parts. “We often have difficulty getting parts from Piaggio, so I’m here to stock up on parts that we currently need or will likely need that we simply can’t get from Piaggio in a timely manner,” he told AIN. As the auction snaked through the shelves stacked with parts, he referred to his parts “hit list” on an Apple MacBook Air that he clutched as he walked along with the crowd. He, too, left with a truckload of spare tires, avionics, components and other Avanti parts.

There were other former Avantair employees at the auction, too. An ex-Avantair maintenance director who now works at a company with an Avanti wasn’t just looking for parts, though. “One of my friends was a vice president at Avantair, and he asked me to buy back some of the memorabilia up for auction that he had on his desk for as long as he can remember.” Specifically, he was looking to buy five framed Harley Davidson posters and a signed racecar helmet–lot numbers 843 and 839, respectively. He walked away from the auction with all of his friends’ memorabilia, some Avanti parts and, for a bargain-basement price of $10, about 10 boxes of paper towels and toilet paper.

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