Company says it was just weeks away from FAA production certification
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend’s Epic Aircraft, just weeks away from clearing the final regulatory hurdle to ramp up production of its high-tech, $3.25 million plane, laid off most of its 325 workers at its Bend Airport plant on Friday, having run into COVID-19 impacts, from an FAA review slowdown to vendor supply issues.
“We laid off a good percentage right now,” Mike Schrader, Epic’s sales and marketing manager, confirmed Friday night to NewsChannel 21. “We’ll have a skeleton crew, 30 to 50 people.”
The company won its FAA type certification last fall, a goal sine 2012 that allows it to start selling fully company-built planes, rather than ones labeled “experimental” in which the buyer has to help finish it.
But the final step, production certification, only comes after the FAA reviews each finished plane in “fly-offs,” and they have pulled back from doing so for the time being, Schrader said.
Just a few weeks ago, Epic received the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance Company of the Year Award for the work on its high-performance, all-composite six-seat single-engine turboprop.
Born in the experimental market from Lancair, Epic says it has over 80 advance E1000 deposits from around the world and two production facilities totaling over 300,000 square feet at its Bend headquarters. It expects to build about 50 planes a year.
Despite the latest hurdles, Schrader said the company remains upbeat about reaching full production soon.
“I’m positive we’ll get through this mess and come out of it,” he said. “The owners and investors and customers know what this product is, and how good it is for the industry.”
The company has “one (plane) out the door and two waiting in line” for the FAA reviews, Schrader said. “We’ve got to walk before you run, start ramping up” production.
“Certifying an aircraft in today’s world is one of the most arduous things you can do,” Schrader said. “The investors are willing to wait it out,” he said, because of the quality of the product.
And Schrader noted the COVID-19-related problems in the aviation industry extend well beyond Epic Air. This week, Textron Aviation, the parent of Wichita, Kansas-based plane-makers Cessna and Beechcraft, announced it would furlough 7,000 workers and adjust production due to falling demand for aircraft.
Schrader said Epic Aircraft was within just four to six weeks of getting production certification when the COVID-19 FAA and vendor supply issues arose. “We were going through the FAA audits, everything else.
"I’m a very optimistic person. I believe we’ll get through this.”