Covid and exiting shareholders brought Pacific Aerospace to earth

Planemaker Pacific Aerospace was brought down by Covid-19 leading to its Chinese and New Zealand joint venture shareholders deciding to exit the business, chief executive Mark Crouch says.

The Hamilton light aircraft manufacturer and exporter, which has a plane-making legacy going back to 1949, was put into interim liquidation on Friday.

Crouch said he is working to secure new owners to resume aircraft production.

He said recent days had been stressful for the company’s staff and customers.

“Erroneous and misguided” statements about the cause of the interim liquidation had no basis in fact, he said.

“PAL (Pacific Aerospace Ltd) was severely impacted by the global effect of Covid-19 with numerous aircraft orders cancelled or postponed.The current shareholders which include a large Chinese state-owned company as well as a local shareholder group have decided to exit the company and therefore I am working at pace to secure new owners who will be able to assist the company to resume production.”

“The company has enjoyed the long term support of our highly skilled workforce as well as the loyal customers who operate our aircraft.

“My focus is on a re-energised company that has the resources to support our customers and continue to develop the aircraft types,” said Crouch, who has been with the company more than five years, the last two as chief executive.

Pacific Aerospace is understood to have at least 100 staff, many of whom are skilled and experienced aviation builders and designers who’ve been with the company a long time.

Meanwhile, interim liquidator Steven Khov said it was still too early in the investigation of the business to discuss details.

Pacific Aerospace Ltd, which is based beside Hamilton airport, was incorporated in 2006.

It entered a joint venture in 2016 with BAIC International, a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of China state-owned juggernaut Beijing Automotive.

BAIC owns 50 per cent and local shareholders PAHL, who include Pacific Aerospace’s then-chief executive Damian Camp, holds 50 per cent.

At the time Camp said the deal was a game-changer for a $30 million annual revenue company that had been “pottering along”.

It could now contemplate “phenomenal” growth, helping China’s central government meet its aim of massively increasing China’s general aviation sector.General aviation is distinct from military and passenger aviation and China considered its growth essential for economic development.

Camp hoped the joint venture would see Pacific Aerospace become one of the world’s most successful general aviation aircraft companies, doubling its staff within 10 years, and at home in the Waikato, rolling out up to 40 aircraft a year.

What had caught China’s eye was Pacific Aerospace’s unique P-750 XSTOL, a multi-purpose aircraft developed from the core of New Zealand’s beloved aviation workhorse the Cresco.

The P-750 debuted in 2006, and its ability to take off and land on extremely short airstrips meant it was snapped up by sky diving and adventure companies around the world. It also proved popular for aerial survey work, search and rescue, security patrolling, and freight transport and Pacific Aerospace’s future after years of scratching for a living and numerous restructures looked set.

The joint venture in 2016 provided for assembly work on P-750s destined for the Chinese market to be shared between Hamilton and China. There was also scope for Pacific Aerospace to provide China with pilot and maintenance engineering training.

Pacific Aerospace has had several reincarnations making different aircraft from Fletcher topdressers to aerobatic air trainers over the decades.

It’s flown through financial turbulence many times so Crouch’s hope of finding new owners to continue a proud Waikato plane-making legacy does not seem far-fetched.

Its legacy entities have included James Aviation formed in 1949, Aero Engine Services in 1954, Air Parts NZ in 1958 and New Zealand Aerospace Industries registered in 1972, and 50 per cent owned by the Government.

In 1982 it became Pacific Aerospace Corporation (PAC), but by the late 80s had been sold to an Australian company, which was more interested in the detail parts it could make to fill contracts with Boeing and Airbus than aircraft manufacture.

In 1995 PAC was sold to Hamilton’s Aeromotive Group, whose owner Brian Hare revived the company and started developing the P-750 from the core of the Cresco. In 2006 the company was bought by Ardmore-based Oceania Aviation, whose shareholders included Camp family members. They renamed it Pacific Aerospace Ltd and within six months, produced the 600th aircraft to roll out of the Hamilton hangars since World War II days.

In 2011 came another challenge on the back of the GFC with a major slump in the world general aviation market. The P-750 order book shrunk and South Canterbury Finance, Pacific Aerospace’s main lender, went into receivership.

A new shareholder with many years of experience in China came on board, laying the foundation for the future partnership with Beijing Automotive.

Camp left as chief executive in 2018 but is still a shareholder of Pacific Aerospace Ltd through PAHL.

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