Trials and tribulations at Taylorcraft Aviation

Troubles at Taylorcraft Aviation LLC have come to a head, with the company facing eviction, a mountain of debt and several lawsuits, judgments and liens, culminating in an auction of key equipment to satisfy one judgment.

The company, which relocated from LaGrange, Texas, to Brownsville, Texas, about a year ago, faces growing debt as the city of Brownsville begins the process of evicting it from its hangar at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport (KBRO).

Harry Ingram, who has owned the company since 2003, says he won’t leave.

He may not have a choice. As this issue was going to press, Brownsville city officials were meeting to discuss what exactly to do about Taylorcraft. A letter was sent to Ingram Sept. 11 informing him that the city wanted him to vacate the premises at the airport.

“The lease originally allowed as an incentive four months of occupancy without payment,” said Larry Brown, director of the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport. “Mr. Ingram has not made payments after that four months, which brings us to where we are.”

An article in the Brownsville Herald quotes City Manager Charlie Cabler as saying that Ingram owes more than $100,000 in back rent. In addition, Taylorcraft owes approximately $10,000 to $12,000 in utility bills to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board. In late September, the city assumed Taylorcraft’s utilities debt. City officials noted that the building that houses the Taylorcraft factory also contains a city storage facility and there is some confusion about how to divvy up the utility bill.

Another issue facing city officials is whether to repay an $85,000 loan that was part of an incentive package given to Taylorcraft by the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. when the company relocated to Brownsville.

But the problems swirling around Taylorcraft don’t stop there.

DROWNING IN DEBT

A search of public records in Cameron County, Texas, revealed that Ingram owes more than a quarter of a million dollars in judgments and liens, including $138,438 to a Colorado couple who put down a deposit for an aircraft in 2004 but never got an airplane and never got their money back. They are part of a small pool of customers who have filed suit to get their money back for services or parts that were promised, but not delivered.

Taylorcraft’s Brownsville factory should not even be making parts or manufacturing airplanes, according to an FAA official, who says the factory isn’t licensed for those activities.

“When they switched operations from LaGrange to Brownsville, they had to reapply to get the manufacturing approval,” said Roland Herwig, an FAA spokesman. “They apparently didn’t. At this point they do not have approval to make parts or airplanes, although they can sell parts that they do have that are good.”

Ingram insists the factory does have permission to make parts and airplanes. In a Sept. 5 telephone interview, he stated Taylorcraft Aviation was still producing parts and aircraft, including a Light Sport Aircraft model.

“We sold the first one and we have orders for 11 more,” he said, adding two of the planes should be ready to deliver in 60 to 70 days. Ingram also noted that he’s looking for investors and is confident he will find them.

Taylorcraft Aviation lost its corporate charter in 2004 due to a tax lien, which means Ingram could be personally liable for the mountain of debt facing the company.

Ingram acknowledges his creditors’ and customers’ frustrations, but defends himself by saying that there were unexpected delays in getting the factory set up, as well as cash flow issues.

“I don’t have any partners. I have been carrying this whole thing on my back,” said Ingram. “I don’t apologize for having cash flow problems, but the broken promises and out-and-out lies are sometimes out of my control. People won’t let you go until you tell them what they want to hear.”

TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR

It was the “tell them what they want to hear” attitude that led to an auction of key equipment in late August, said Tom Garrick, the plaintiff in the judgment. Garrick took his Taylorcraft to the factory for repairs to a wing tip and rudder after a nose-over accident. Ingram had the airplane for three and a half years but never finished the work.

“I paid $28,000 to have the repairs done and after many, many promises he didn’t deliver,” said Garrick. “He did re-cover the aircraft with fabric but he didn’t pay the AI, who was supposed to sign off on the job, so the AI walked off without signing off on it, so they had to take all the fabric off. Harry also took the wing apart for some reason and took parts off the aircraft. Finally after too many broken promises and waiting too long, I went down and got my airplane back, but it was missing about $3,000 to $4,000 worth of its parts.”

Garrick says Ingram refused to send him the missing parts, but told him he could make an appointment to come to the factory to pick them up. When he went to the factory, the parts were not there.

The $38,000 judgment includes the money Garrick lost plus attorney’s fees. The auction was held Aug. 28 because Ingram could not pay the judgment. According to the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department, assets that went up for bid included a forklift, a sheet metal brake, planer, 26 jigs of various sizes, a Miller welder and a metal table with grinder.

A Taylorcraft attorney purchased the items at the auction, noted Gus Reyna, deputy chief of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department. “The factory essentially bought their stuff back,” he said. “It is a $38,000 judgment and of that only $7,000 was picked up on the sale. There is still an outstanding balance and that balance is incurring interest.”

Ingram alleges the auction was the result of a conspiracy between Garrick, whom he describes as a disgruntled customer, Joe Marroquin, a disgruntled former employee, and Forrest Barber, president of the Taylorcraft Foundation. According to a statement Ingram sent to General Aviation News on Sept. 4 and posted on Taylorcraft.org, the Taylorcraft Foundation website, the three men are conspiring to run Taylorcraft Aviation out of business and take over production of Taylorcraft parts for themselves.

“Why would they go to this extreme?” Ingram wrote. “Greed. If the factory wasn’t in business they could create an environment very similar to the Piper Cub lift strut Airworthiness Directive. Let’s do some math: 3,000 Taylorcrafts, $2,500 for a new set of lift struts equals $7,500,000.”

Garrick and Barber denied the allegation as laughable. Marroquin could not be reached for comment.

According to Ingram, the problem began when the restoration of Garrick’s aircraft took longer than anticipated.

“The aircraft arrived in pieces,” he said. “Building the parts for restorations is very time consuming. Any restoration takes six to eight months, and we are held to Part 23 standards, which means we have to wait for the FAA or a Designated Airworthiness Representative to sign them off. Then we lost about a year when we moved from LaGrange to Brownsville. Then I had let my AI go, that was Joe Marroquin, and he got in touch with Mr. Garrick and said ‘I’ll do the job’ and he’s the one who came to pick up the airplane. We made numerous attempts to come to terms and settle with Mr. Garrick,” Ingram continued.

Garrick remembers things differently, saying that when his attorney and the sheriff went to the factory to pick up the items for auction, Ingram allegedly asked them not to go through with the auction and told them he would have the money on Monday.

“My attorney told him ‘Bring the money on Monday,’” said Garrick, “and they still removed the items. That was the last time we spoke to Harry.”

Ingram has owned the company since 2003. When we first interviewed him in the spring of 2003, he stated the company would be delivering new aircraft, as well as replacement parts for existing models, by August. Then the date for new aircraft deliveries was pushed to October 2004, then early 2005. As 2006 draws to a close, the factory has yet to produce any new aircraft with the exception of the first Taylor Sport, a Special Light Sport design that was certified in January 2005.

UNHAPPY CUSTOMERS

The parts side of the operation also has had its challenges. In September 2004 we received phone calls and emails from Taylorcraft owners who said they did not get the parts they paid for and when they called to ask about them Ingram gave them excuses or allegedly misled them about the factory’s ability to make the parts. Others said they were sent parts that were old stock (produced years ago) and not airworthy.

Some of the frustrated customers posted their experiences on the Internet at Taylorcraft.org on a message board titled “Problems dealing with Harry Ingram and the factory.”

While some customers did post positive experiences, others told of trips made to the factory to retrieve their airplanes, which were often in pieces as if they had been cannibalized.

Ken McCormick, of Anchorage, Alaska, was one of those unlucky customers. He shipped his Taylorcraft, which belonged to his father, to the factory to have it re-covered and the brakes upgraded. After months of excuses as to why the work was not finished, McCormick made the trip to LaGrange to retrieve his aircraft and was shocked at what he found. “When we shipped it down it had the wings off and that was about it. But we found the airplane in pieces, its parts spread out on a table, no order at all. The windshield and the windows had also been broken.”

He wasn’t sure if he got all the parts to his airplane because of the disarray in the hangar.

McCormick shared his experience on Taylorcraft.org.

Ingram is highly critical of the website, saying, “It only spreads the darkness where there is a lot of light here.” He blames Foundation President Barber in part for that, since Barber is one of the moderators on the forum and is also a source for replacement parts.

Ingram says he has written a letter to the San Antonio FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office to ask the agency to investigate Barber, who, he alleges, “sells parts out of a flea market atmosphere.”

“I have asked the FAA to return to me all Taylorcraft drawings (allegedly in Barber’s possession) pertaining to the 1A9 and A-696 Type Certificates,” Ingram said. “Also I have filed a suspect and unapproved parts on all parts in his possession.”

Ingram, who claims to hold the Taylorcraft Type Certificate, asserts that those drawings are proprietary information and Barber should not have them.

When Barber was contacted on Sept. 5, he stated that he knew nothing about Ingram’s allegations or the alleged FAA investigation. Barber countered that he has FAA approval to sell parts.

On Sept. 6 Jerald Strentz, manager of the FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office, stated that his office would be the one to investigate the allegations, but “We have not heard from him (Harry Ingram).”

Ingram claims that he has been under “vicious attack for five months,” citing as an example, “Mr. Garrick’s attorney called the airport director, the Economic Development Council and the City of Brownsville and the FAA, among others, to tell them that Taylorcraft was going under.”

“It was not personal,” Garrick said. “I told Harry again and again I just wanted my airplane back together. I wonder about the parts that I still have not gotten back. They took disassembled, undamaged parts of my airplane for I don’t know why and I wonder if they didn’t cannibalize parts. I worry about the other aircraft owners who have airplanes down there.”

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