For bad and for good, the story of Beechcraft is a classic American tale more than 80 years in the making.
The iconic Wichita, Kansas, light airplane manufacturer, which catapulted to prominence with what amounted to the Depression-era bizjet, the still-sexy Beechcraft D-17 Staggerwing, rose through the subsequent decades on the fortunes of a hall-of-fame lineup of products, top-notch support, a dealer network without peer and a brand that stayed loyal to its heritage arguably throughout its history.
Today, the company is a shell of its former self. Gone are thousands of workers, let go over the past five years in the wake of the global economic bust. And many product lines, including those for the Premier and Hawker 4000, have stood idle for some time as the markets for those airplanes dried up.
The decline wasn’t for lack of effort. “The untold story,” said Shawn Vick, executive vice president, customers, of Hawker Beechcraft Corp., in an interview with Flying shortly after its announcements at the National Business Aviation Association convention, “is the level of effort and focus that the people at Hawker Beechcraft have gone through, not just since the filing for protection but over the last three years. The work that was done across all facets of the organization was remarkable. All the manufacturers felt it [the effects of the downturn]; we certainly were no different than any other, but we had the unfortunate issue of the business having been acquired by two knowledgeable and capable private equity organizations, Goldman Sachs and Onex ... virtually on the eve of the economic reset.”
How HBC got to this point is another classic story, though not a good one. It is the story of the modern economic model failing a good company with good products, service and, most importantly, people.
While Beechcraft in its various ownership incarnations has weathered a number of slumps and hurdles over the past few decades, what it couldn’t overcome was the fallout from the leveraged buyout of 2007 coupled with a continued global economic recession that crippled airplane sales. As a result of these factors, the company’s debt, more than $2.5 billion, proved impossible to pay down, which stifled its ability to develop new products and market the ones it has, not to mention service the debt. Last year, HBC came to the difficult conclusion that, as hard as it might try, it couldn’t sell its way out of debt.