Survivor: Adam Aircraft shifts from development to production

As Rick Adam recalls, in the early years of his company, executives measured their success by whether they made it to the next air show.

“We used to show up year after year and people would say ‘we see hundreds of guys like you. How do we know you’re going to stay around?” said Adam, founder of Adam Aircraft, which manufactures the A500 twin and is working towards certification of the A700 jet.

“We used to refer to the aviation industry as Wrestle Mania,” Adam said on Sun ‘n Fun’s opening day, April 17. “At the end of the bout, you looked around to see who was still standing.”

Now, almost 10 years later, Adam Aircraft is not only still standing, but looking at an order book that will keep the company’s production team busy through 2009.

As the company prepares to celebrates its 10th anniversary, it faces challenges just as big — if not bigger — than those of a decade ago, according to Adam.

“We have a backlog of about $1 billion worth of airplanes,” he said. “Our problem is not selling airplanes — it’s building them.”

The shift from developing an airplane to producing an airplane has been “every bit as hard as getting certification in the first place,” he said.

As more and more of the company’s resources are dedicated to “repetitively producing airplanes,” it has turned to a interesting ally: Cirrus Design Corp. The company, which has been so successful with its SR-22, has provided Adam officials with a lot of helpful information on how to go from manufacturing 10 planes a year to manufacturing hundreds of planes a year, Adam said. “We’re going to school on these guys,” he said.

Now, as Cirrus begins developing its jet and more complex aircraft, Adam officials are able to return the favor, sharing some of their know-how developed over the last 10 years.

Adam Aircraft has delivered seven A500s so far, with another delivery slated for this month.

Its goal is to ramp up that production — a lot. Right now, it takes about a year to build an airplane. Adam executives want to get that down to 12 weeks.

To do that, the company has brought in several top executives, who have experience in a variety of companies, including McDonnell Douglas, Fairchild Dornier, Raytheon Aircraft, Bombardier and Bell Textron. “All have deep backgrounds in repetitively producing airplanes,” Adam noted.

The company also recently wrapped up flight testing to amend the plane’s Type Certificate to flight to 25,000 feet. “We anticipate getting that paperwork to the FAA soon,” Adam said.

Meanwhile, work continues towards getting the A700 jet certified. The first two prototypes have accumulated more than 800 hours of risk reduction testing, while No. 3 took to the skies for the first time just before Sun ‘n Fun.

The company is working with both the FAA and the EASA for concurrent certification. The fact that the jet has many of the same parts of the A500 —parts already certified — means a huge reduction in FAA paperwork and, hopefully, the time it takes to get to certification, according to Adam.

The company has 375 orders for the A700 on the books, with close to 300 destined for air taxi operations. The enclosed aft lavatory, as well as the jet’s cabin size, have been big selling points in that market, Adam added.

The company also has opened 16 service centers around the nation, often approaching Cirrus service centers and asking if they want to add Adam Aircraft. Service centers also were chosen so that they were in close proximity to early customers, he said.

Most of the A500 training is taking place in customers’ own planes, Adam noted. Computer based training, simulators and an advanced aviation training device from Aerosim is in the works. The Virtual Flight Display is expected to available in October of this year for the A500 and January for the A700, while the advanced training device should be available by next June.

Discussions are underway to determine the training program for the A700, he added.

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