Commentary: Why Van’s Shouldn’t Kill the RV-15

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Van’s RV-15

Since the announcement that Van’s Aircraft is entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the aviation community has been wondering if the still-gestating RV-15, arguably Van’s brightest new opportunity for the coming year, would become a victim of the company’s money troubles. It’s a fair question for aviation enthusiasts to ask, but especially those who have money in the game, waiting on parts to come from Oregon and wondering what the future will bring.

Some have suggested that the only “right” thing for Van’s to do is kill (or at least shelve for now) the RV-15 and focus all its efforts on replacing parts caught up in the laser-cut debacle, getting its house in order and gaining back trust within the community. And to be clear, that’s the company’s stated goal: Making customers whole and ensuring full kits get delivered is the highest priority, I’m told.

I can see the point of view suggesting the RV-15 should go into the cooler. But I think that’s an overly simplistic approach. When Paul Dye and I got a behind-the-scenes look at the early part of RV-15 development, I was impressed with how on-task the engineering team was. And specialized. Sure, they got pulled into other parts of the company, but in that moment they had their development jobs to do, well into the evenings and over weekends to boot—and they did them.

So let’s consider that it doesn’t really make sense for the entire engineering team to get up from the CAD stations and start hammering out parts to fill orders. While they have already been busy with other tasks to support what is now very much a manufacturing-capacity issue, the engineering staff should, in my view, conclude its review of parts strength around the laser-cut items and get back on the RV-15. (No, they didn’t make me king, but a guy can fantasize.)

Here’s the point. It’s almost certain the company will focus on ensuring the manufacturing issues never happen again and to rebuild the company’s reputation for quality, but that won’t take forever. If the team of “fixers” brought in to gently guide Van’s away from the financial cliff do their jobs, the company will be in a position to move forward. At some point the fever breaks and you have to push ahead. The RV-15 is the vehicle for that effort, literally and emotionally—plus, the market’s been clamoring for a high-wing RV for years. Why make it wait?

4 COMMENTS

  1. Van’s Aircraft has a lot on its plate. First it has to stop the bleeding. It’s easy to say just hammer out parts without laser cutting. In fact, they will have to change their process to incorporate this change. Going backwards is going to cost money. Second they have to make all their pre-sales orderer’s whole, this is also costly and will be a big part of the plan-of-reorganization. Third they have to maintain their supplier chain at current or improved costs. This is not always a slam dunk if a supplier(s) has been hurt by the bankruptcy. Bankruptcy protection helps with this issue by forcing suppliers to continue their service. To do this Van’s would have to pay on an order by order basis in cash with creditors approval. This becomes very expensive and burns a bunch of cash during the process of reorganization. Forth, they must keep the company operating at or near current financial targets. If employees start to leave, suppliers also fail, or lending fails things can spiral out of control quickly. Fifth and most importantly, Van’s is now a debtor-in-possession. That means the company is directly controlled by the creditors and a judge. Day-to-day operations will mostly be unchanged. Now all non day-to-day decisions will have to go through the judge until the plane of reorganization is accepted and approved by the creditors. And this BIG issue is, who’s reorganization plan will be accepted? That will be up to the judge/creditors, especially if more than one plan of reorganization is being presented to the creditors. So to the RV-17 issue! Is it a day to day function or not will be the big question in keeping the RV-17 program moving forward while under Chap.11! This is just basic chap 11 stuff, laws are different in each State.

  2. As a retired quality engineer, I have several observations.
    1. When active I was was tasked with inspection oversight of all our vendors. Assignment of our employees to check on an ISO 9001 criteria was the 2nd layer of ensuring a consistency in meet the customers requirements.
    2. I visited the Van’s factory and was impressed with the attention to quality at the time (back in 2008).
    This time frame was prior to introduction of the RV-10 I believe.
    3. There were some issues with off site assembly of pre-assembled parts particularly those involving fuel tanks. I recall that was attributed to ones from the Phillipines. Re-education solved this issue in it’s infancy.
    4, Over time senior folks have since retired, and the focus was affected by the virus, shutdowns & the aftermath of same.
    5. It is still the paramount responsibility of management oversight with all these interruptions and distractions to double down on basic inspection responsibilities. It is a tough lesson to avoid undesirable outcomes as facing Vans at this juncture.
    In conclusion, hindsight is always 20/20, so I sincerely hope they can recover from this and it looks like they are putting forth an extremely strong effort.

  3. When the house is on fire you get the wife and kids out. Leave the photo albums and heirlooms. You might get them back after the fire department is done…you might not.

    The house is on fire. Now is not the time to spend money on new development.

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