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Will Mooney rise again?Will Mooney rise again?

China pulls the plug on Texas brandChina pulls the plug on Texas brand

A series of U.S., French, and German ownership groups couldn’t make Mooney profitable—and neither could the Meijing Group of China.

Photo by Chris Rose

The sprawling Mooney International Corp. factory in Kerrville, Texas, where more than 11,000 single-engine airplanes have been produced since 1953, has slipped back into hibernation. When, or if, it will ever reemerge, no one really knows. A previous skeleton crew kept the company alive, on paper at least, from 2008 until 2013.

The latest Mooney closure isn’t surprising given the company’s weak sales record. The company delivered just 14 airplanes in 2018, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, well below the company’s stated annual target of at least 25.

The Chinese owners invested heavily in modernizing production with new equipment and materials, and they made thoughtful improvements to its flagship M20 Ovation and Acclaim Ultra models with a left-side door and composite cabin.

But the company’s costly efforts to design, build, and certify a pair of two-seat, diesel-powered models (the M10J and M10T) at a new facility in Chino, California, fizzled in 2017.

And even though the M20s are faster and have nearly identical engines and avionics to market-leading Cirrus SR22s, Mooneys don’t have airframe parachutes—and Cirrus far outsold them. (By comparison, Cirrus sold about 380 single-engine piston airplanes in 2018.)

A Mooney dealer said an airframe parachute would have boosted new aircraft sales, but the company was unwilling to pursue FAA certification for a parachute.

Mooney had long focused on the emerging Asia market and planned to produce airplanes in China. But that market never materialized, at least as far as the M20 product line was concerned.

Mooney has a loyal following among owners who prize speed, handling qualities, range, and value—and the existing fleet of used Mooney aircraft was its most serious competition.

A new Acclaim, for example, had a retail price of $800,000, but 10-year-old models with nearly identical performance are available for one-third or even one-fourth as much. Value-conscious Mooney pilots were reluctant to pay such a high premium for new airplanes.

Also, Mooney’s corporate leadership seemed strangely disconnected from its pilot community.

Jerry Chen, who led the effort to revive the company, warned Mooney pilots at a gathering at EAA AirVenture in 2014 that they simply weren’t buying enough new airplanes. That was a true statement, but one that seemed to alienate his audience. Chen was replaced as Mooney CEO in 2016 by Vivek Saxena, a former Pratt & Whitney executive and aviation industry consultant, but Saxena was gone in less than a year.

Saxena’s main misstep seemed to have been an announcement at the Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in 2017 that Mooney would halt development of the M10 models—a move that was already underway but apparently embarrassed Mooney’s owner.

After Saxena’s departure, Mooney closed its California research-and-development facility and fired its engineering staff but bizarrely continued to insist that its efforts to develop the M10 models were continuing and that Saxena had taken a leave of absence—both of which were obviously and demonstrably false.

Mooney officials didn’t respond to inquiries for this story. But if past is prologue, the company will remain as a corporate entity, keep producing parts, and do whatever it must do to keep its FAA production certificate viable.

During its last hibernation, that meant producing farcical reports on periodic safety training and environmental committee meetings, as well as undergoing regular FAA inspections of its closed factory.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Financial, Aviation Industry

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