Epic, Kingfisher, Airbus Confirm -- And Confuse -- Strategic Partnership

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Wednesday morning in Atlanta at the 60th National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Annual Meeting and Convention, executives from Epic Aircraft, India-based Kingfisher Airlines and Airbus sat down to confirm rumors and reports of a new strategic partnership, releasing few details but giving rise to additional speculation. Rick Schrameck, Epic Aircraft’s president and CEO, Hitesh Patel, Kingfisher’s executive vice president and Arnaud Martin, vice president of the Airbus corporate and executive jet operation held a press conference in which they confirmed Kingfisher’s $200 million, 50/50 "strategic partnership" with Epic but left open the specific roles each other would play. Lurking in the background was Airbus, which presently has no formal agreement with Epic but has a longstanding manufacturer/customer relationship with Kingfisher, a large scheduled aircraft operation in headquartered in Mumbai, India. On its face, the new arrangement between manufacturer Epic and Kingfisher likely will prove a boon to both companies. But is there something else beneath the surface. Officials of all three companies delivered little more than a figurative shrug Wednesday morning.

On one hand, the cash infusion undoubtedly will help Epic perfect, certify and produce its line of experimental and certified aircraft, including the Epic LT single-engine turboprop and the presently-in-flight-test Epic Victory very light jet. Too, Kingfisher expects its investment in Epic will yield large dividends in the rapidly growing market for business and corporate aircraft throughout Asia, especially including China and India. The vast manufacturing resources -- including inexpensive labor and other benefits -- Asia can offer to both partners is undoubtedly an attraction, adding to the synergies discussed Wednesday morning. But the equation’s wildcard is Airbus’s involvement. Its representative at Wednesday’s press conference would say only Airbus is in the very preliminary phases of discussions with Kingfisher, the idea behind which is to learn what technologies Epic can provide the company. Is Airbus, already a subsidiary of EADS Socata -- itself no slouch in the general aviation market -- in a hurry to get its hands on a VLJ? Is Airbus looking at Epic and its new relationship with Kingfisher as a turn-key way to break into the VLJ and high-end experimental aircraft market? Stranger things have happened in the worldwide business aviation market. Meanwhile, Epic is basking in the glow of signing up a major new cash-flush partner and looking forward to the prospect of cranking out a few hundred of its aircraft into a new, open market where few of its competition either have a presence or can speak the language. And that’s not a bad day’s work.