• GippsAero has built Airvans at their Latrobe Valley plant since 2000. After a hiatus, production is set to recommence next year. (John Absolon)
    GippsAero has built Airvans at their Latrobe Valley plant since 2000. After a hiatus, production is set to recommence next year. (John Absolon)

Australia's general aviation industry went excitedly troppo in November last year when manufacturer GippsAero announced the founding family had bought the company back from the Indian parent.

With a plan to start manufacturing Airvans again, the Morgan family became 100% owners and set about revitalising a factory that had languished under Mahindra. But since that announcement, things have been very quiet.

Not inactive ... just quiet.

In the background, the family has been slowly piecing together the puzzle that will allow the Airvan 8 to go back into production, a challenging exercise in the current environment of lack of parts, rampant cost increases and a shortage of skills. 

But according to David Morgan, son of co-founder George and Marguerite Morgan and one of the key figures at GippsAero, the Morgan family were determined to wrest back control of the company despite an awareness of the hurdles in their path.

"The opportunity arose after Mahindra put GippsAero out to the general public for sale," Morgan told Australian Flying. "We worked out a way that we could get the company that suited both parties.

"It was a huge investment and there's still a lot more to do because it had been run down somewhat. After 2-3 years without rolling out complete aircraft, things had been slowed down. But it's all there and it's all ready to be re-energised.

"It's far easier for us to re-start with all the approvals and everything in place than to start with nothing. For us it wouldn't have been a gigantic task, but for anyone coming in from outside of the business, it would have been daunting.

"Most of the potential buyers were internationals who would have had different training and compliance systems."

That George and Marguerite Morgan were already intimate with GippsAero and its inner workings has been an advantage, boosted by the industry nous of David and wife Sarah, who are principles of their own aviation company Omni Craft. And there is another force in the industry they have been able to leverage as well: loyalty.

"I think a lot of people have allegiance to George and Margie for what they've done over the years and that's why we're getting so much support to go back," David Morgan explains. "It's that real-life connection that is bringing GippsAero back on line so quickly.

"Luckily we had nine of the key staff still here to keep the certificates up and going. They finished up with Mahindra on one day and stepped back into GippsAero the next."

The Morgans have returned to 100% ownership at a time when most manufacturers and aircraft operators are scrambling to get their share of new engines. Lycoming is quoted lead-times of up to two years for new motors, which has GippsAero developing alternative strategies for their ambition of re-starting new airframe production.

"We have a number of different avenues for engines that we're looking at," Morgan points out. "We're getting a push from the market to tap into the sustainable fuels, SAF and Jet-A burning engines.

"We offer the GA10 in that situation where there is no shortage of engines and fuel is plentiful. We're also looking at the Jet-A burning piston engines such as the CD-300 or the Red Aircraft.

"We've been talking to Continental and we're on the phone to Lycoming everyday working out strategies to get engines. They're starting to come alive now."

Although GippsAero has a supply schedule in with Lycoming, the company is also working on the idea of building new airframes to mate with overhauled engines, including the concept of customers supplying their own overhauled motors, which will make the finished aircraft significantly cheaper, and probably get it delivered a lot earlier as well.

But to start manufacturing, you need customers and capital. With the Morgan family having invested probably an eight-figure sum in divesting themselves of Mahindra, the company has devised a scheme that will catalyse the production line without the family having to find more cash.

"We have a scheme in place to offer the industry where the first 10 airframes will be offered on a build-buy basis, where progress payments are made along the way," says Morgan. "The questions we are getting from customers who want a new aeroplane is 'how much?' and 'when can I get it?'

"The cost of everything since COVID has gone up 30-50%, and a lot of our suppliers closed up after COVID, and we're feeling the knock-on effect of that now. We're finding new avenues, new suppliers; people who may not have done aviation stuff before, but have the skills and credentials to do so. We're working to the point that we can hit the 'go' button on the scheme for the first 10 customers."

What the new GippsAero is confident of is that the world-wide GA industry still wants the Airvan 8.

"Demand for the Airvan 8 is as strong, if not even stronger than it was before manufacturing stopped," Morgan reckons. "If you look at the second-hand market price and the lack of them available shows the demand is as strong as ever, and that's probably due to the lack of supply of new aircraft for the last 3-5 years.

"Customers are looking at their aircraft and what they need to be able to service their own market, and the Airvan being so versatile in its roles fits the bill for a lot more operations today than ever before."

GippsAero is hoping to roll-out the first new Airvan 8 in the middle weeks of next year.

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