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SeaRey maker inop, buyer sought

Progressive Aerodyne, the Tavares, Florida, company that manufactures the SeaRey amphibious light sport aircraft in kit and factory-built versions, has shut down production while it negotiates the possible sale of the company to an investor group, according to people familiar with the situation including the former chief executive.

Progressive Aerodyne, maker of the light sport SeaRey, is seeking new ownership. Photo by Mike Fizer.

“The doors are closed until there is a new owner or other resolution,” said Geoffrey Nicholson, Progressive Aerodyne’s CEO from 2017 to 2023. Nicholson declined to provide additional details regarding the company’s disposition. Its website is not operating and displays the message “Account Suspended,” and attempts to reach the company by phone were unsuccessful.

While the shutdown has raised concern among SeaRey owners and operators, the reported interest of U.S. investors could result in the company’s return to domestic ownership after more than a decade. Some of the SeaRey’s many fans consider the potential transaction a positive development. The company has been owned by Chinese investors since 2016.

Overseas ownership of aircraft companies that originated in the United States often raises skepticism among pilots, as there are cases in which such arrangements worked out poorly for the companies and their customers. Glasair Aviation, for example, last year halted sales of its aircraft kits while relocating its operations to China. The move left customers unsure of the company’s future plans.

However, other manufacturers such as Cirrus have benefited from foreign ownership. Aircraft deliveries for the maker of the SR series of piston singles and the SF50 Vision Jet rose 13 percent to 708 units in 2023 with $930 million in revenue, a nearly 22-percent increase from 2022, according to data compiled by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

Flight school operator Tom Rhines has trained dozens of pilots to fly the LSA and helped many accrue seaplane time for advanced ratings. He described Progressive Aerodyne as “a steady going concern” that faltered during the COVID-19 pandemic and had difficulty recovering through the supply chain slowdown that followed.

Rhines and his wife, Gayle, both airline pilots, own and operate SeaRey Adventures in Temple, Texas. Both are certified instructors with the SeaRey Flight Instructors Association (SFIA). He says enthusiasm for the SeaRey stems from its brisk climb and cruise performance, and responsive handling, which make it a true “pilot’s aircraft.”

Training is critical, he says, in part because the airplane’s high thrust line and pusher design give it flight characteristics that differ considerably from conventional aircraft. The SFIA and most insurance companies require at least 15 hours of dual instruction for pilots checking out in the SeaRey.

“When you increase power, it wants to pitch down. If the engine fails, it pitches up suddenly,” Rhines says. “It’s a great airplane, but it’s not a normal airplane.”

Pilot Kerry Richter founded Progressive Aerodyne in 1992, but the company’s roots stretch back to the 1970s when ultralight aircraft development was booming and his father and grandfather were heavily involved. With the advent of the light sport category, Richter saw an opportunity to leverage his ultralight experience into designing and marketing an amphibious LSA.

The airplane has gained a devoted following that extends to celebrity and popular culture. The author Richard Bach, famous for Jonathan Livingston Seagull, also wrote Travels with Puff: A gentle game of life and death about his experiences during long trips in his SeaRey. A decade ago, Australian pilot Michael Smith truly put the SeaRey on the map when he used one to circumnavigate the globe and wrote a book about the 210-day excursion called Voyage of the Southern Sun: An amazing solo journey around the world.

The SeaRey production  facility in Tavares, Florida, pictured here in 2019, has been closed while Progressive Aerodyne markets the company. Photo by Mike Fizer.
Jonathan Welsh
Jonathan Welsh
Digital Media Content Producer
Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot, career journalist and lifelong aviation enthusiast who previously worked as a writer and editor with Flying Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
Topics: Financial, Progressive Aerodyne

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