Announcing a “proactive business strategy,” Glasair Aviation, maker of the Sportsman Experimental, says it is furloughing its production and builder-assist staff while retaining a “core group” of about 10 people for product support and engineering. The company has halted its Two Weeks to Taxi builder-assist program, citing COVID-19 restrictions and the inability to follow them inside that program. The company will not take new orders for existing product but will, instead, undertake a number of improvements to the Sportsman for a relaunch in 2021. Finally, the company says that any of the aircraft already in the TWTT pipeline will be completed.
The Sportsman is a high-wing adventure/utility homebuilt with a steel-tube primary structure enclosed by a fiberglass or optional carbon-fiber fuselage shell. The wings, flaps, ailerons, rudder, horizontal tail and elevator are conventional aluminum. It can be built as either a trigear or taildragger, and uses either a 180-HP Lycoming IO-360 or 210-HP Lycoming IO-390. Originally listed as a 2+2, the Sportsman was upgraded with larger, rear-facing passenger seats a few years ago. Stall speed is less than 50 MPH, with a cruise of around 165 MPH with the larger engine. Some 400 are flying, built at home by individuals or using the company’s builder-assist program.
The full announcement from Glasair Aviation’s CEO Randy Lervold:
“When I accepted the position of President and CEO of Glasair Aviation in late May of 2019, the potential of the company looked positive indeed. At that time Glasair’s foundation included sound financial backing from its parent company, the Jilin Hanxing Group, and an aircraft that was not just competitive, but unique in its broad appeal and performance. Further, I immediately saw ways in which the Sportsman could be improved to make it even more competitive in the GA market. With Glasair’s rich history in experimental aviation and a positive reputation in General Aviation, the ingredients were indeed there to take things up a notch.
“I set to work improving processes and efficiencies in the company’s operations. Too many of our procedures had not been evaluated or updated for many years. With the backing of our parent company, I first put in place an industry-class management team and then initiated substantial investments in tooling, process reviews, and renewed documentation that would assure a stable base for our operations moving forward.
“In February of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and in March a state-wide ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ directive in Washington forced Glasair to close for two and a half months. While difficult for any business, the pandemic’s implications for our Two-Weeks-To-Taxi builder assist program are pernicious: how can we protect a group of six or more people working in close proximity for two continuous weeks? Even with our comprehensive ‘COVID-19 Playbook,’ adapted specifically for Glasair’s manufacturing environment, conscientious mitigation would be problematic and risky.
“Influences far beyond our control have moderated Glasair’s near-term prospects. Our builder assist program is the cornerstone of our business currently, and responsible, safe administration of TWTT appears to be unworkable as long as the pandemic’s infection rate remains high.
“While Glasair’s foundation remains intact, in order to weather this storm we are choosing a proactive business strategy: focusing on 2021, we will pause our sales and manufacturing operations for Q3 and Q4 of 2020. Starting in July, most of our staff will be furloughed, but the company will maintain a Core Team of engineers, technicians, and support personnel to maintain our fleet and facilities, and continue product development. Glasair is of course committed to completing all customer aircraft currently in our build queue.
“Importantly, design and testing for what will become the next-generation Sportsman are already underway and will continue in Q3 and Q4. Our intent is to introduce them, along with the resumption of production, in 2021. We are in unprecedented times and we believe that this proactive strategy, rather than burning through cash in the short term, is our best path for the long run for all of us in the Glasair community. We will keep our web site updated with the latest info as we finish 2020 and look forward to 2021!”