I completed and flew my Van’s RV-10 in 2014 and I currently do not have any pending orders with the company. I have flown my airplane for just under 1000 hours. I had zero foreknowledge of the impending “situation” that started with an admission of a serious cash crunch in October and led to the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early December. I was as shocked and concerned as any other customer when the initial announcement was made. However, once the perfect storm of primergate, lasergate and COVIDgate had been explained, I wasn’t at all surprised at the result.
It doesn’t take an MBA to understand that a manufacturing business can’t continue to wallow in a position where they lose money every time a crate leaves the loading dock. A reset must be made while there is still something viable to reset. As a lifelong wing nut, the first analogous image that entered my mind was of an aircraft caught behind the power curve. High power, high pitch attitude, low forward airspeed, lots of drag and desperately trying to regain cruise performance without losing much altitude or, worse, impacting the ground. We’ve all been taught the dangers of such a scenario, but we should have also been taught how to carefully extricate ourselves from it and get back in the green.
Like some builders, I didn’t acquire my builder number directly from the company. I had been watching the company and its products with interest for several years, but they had me when they published the first pictures of the plywood mock-up of the RV-10 cabin. A year or two later, I had an airline overnight in Portland, Oregon, so I rented a car to make the short drive to Aurora to take the facility tour and the most expensive $50 test flight an enthusiast can take. On the drive back to return the rental car I was giddy with delight at finally finding my ideal build project that I had been dreaming about since childhood.
Shortly after deciding to officially become a Van’s customer, a fellow at my home airport offered a virgin RV-10 empennage kit for sale as he had recently purchased the entire series of kits from the estate of a builder who had suddenly passed away. Within an hour of finding out about the available kit, it was sitting in my garage. I paid slightly less than the retail price, but saved substantially by not having to pay shipping or sales tax. About a year and a half later, the emp kit was nearly finished, I faxed my first paper order document for my fuselage kit from Van’s and our mutual “relationship” had begun.
I am going to put this right out on the discussion table. I honestly do not believe that Van’s is going to fail. However, and this is extremely important, I believe with equal passion that it would be foolish for any element of the Van’s universe, meaning management, employees, suppliers, customers and so on to not accept with soberness that failure could happen. In my opinion, the Van’s fleet is too big to fail and will continue on in relative perpetuity as several other fleets of much smaller size and customer embrace have done decades after the original mothership has been mothballed. I don’t believe that the parent company itself is likely to fail. However, believing that failure isn’t possible and ignoring the risks would be dangerous.
It’s worth remembering that it’s not just Van’s we’re talking about, but a whole constellation of supporting companies that make good money from RV builders. These are companies big and small, and even a short-term reduction in sales and projects as builders stop or slow their projects (or as new sales of RV kits stop) can have a meaningful influence on the bottom line.
But probably no group is as impacted as builders either just starting or who need additional kit components. They’re faced with increased costs against a backdrop of prices going up on everything, including engines, propellers, paint and avionics. I’ve seen comments from several builders who plan to abandon their projects. I have no doubt that for some the whole idea of building an airplane was a financial stretch, and the latest news has pushed them to the breaking point.
Looking at what’s next. Some acts in aviation, like initiating a missed approach or handling a V1 cut, require immediate action to address. Others are best dealt with patience, like waiting for the weather to clear or maintenance to be completed. It’s clear Van’s is now treating this like the exigent emergency that it is. I’m told the new management is tackling this on all fronts: better managing the company’s resources, determining the best path forward and taking steps to keep the company out of liquidation. Also, Van’s would join many much larger companies facing bankruptcy that emerged strong on the other side.
I admit that the world is different for those of us with flying RV than for those who have money down for kits they’re concerned they can afford or those fearing they might not get the parts to finish their airplanes. Some have said there is risk in RVs becoming less valuable with Van’s out of business (or in some other reconstituted form), but I don’t see it. The airplanes are too good and the ecosystem too large. I think it’s that kind of momentum that will help Van’s through its darkest hour.