Over the Rainbow

The recovery in Wichita is hardly complete. Across town from Cessna and Learjet, Hawker Beechcraft—which has remained in Wichita in some form or another since Walter Beech and his wife, Olive Ann, founded the Beech Aircraft Corporation in 1932—has delayed production of its next composite jet, the light Hawker 200; that aircraft may never reach customers.

After a short boom following its re-formation in 2007, Hawker Beechcraft has struggled in the past few years. Equity firms Goldman Sachs and Onex Partners pieced together the company from Raytheon Aircraft through a $3 billion-plus deal in which the new brand issued a large amount of debt. The weight of that debt burdened the company during and following the recession. In the last four years, Hawker Beechcraft laid off nearly half of its roughly 10,000 employees. In May, to reduce some of its debt, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In July, Hawker Beechcraft announced it was undergoing funding negotiations with China’s Superior Aviation Beijing Co. At press time, the details of those negotiations were unclear. In June, however, Hawker Beechcraft executive vice president Shawn Vick noted the success of Hawker Beechcraft’s XPR Performance Upgrades program (xpr.hawkerbeechcraft.com), which gives owners of the Hawker 400XP, Beechjet 400A, and Hawker 800 jets the opportunity to improve the range and reduce the operating cost of those planes. Hawker Beechcraft announced the factory-completed XPR program in May 2010, and Vick said the company currently has a backlog of orders for the upgrades.

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