Evolution Aircraft Co., the Redmond-based kit maker of single-engine, high-performance aircraft, is still on the hunt for investors, a month after laying off nearly half its workforce, the chief financial officer said Friday.
Randy Akacich said employees are still at work at the facility on SE Timber Avenue. “The shop is currently diligently focused on fulfilling customer commitments,” he said.
CEO Bob Wolstenholme in an October message to employees said the company was in “a bit of a crisis.” He cited delays in deliveries of some components for kits in progress and the withdrawal of two customers who’d signed up to buy kit planes, of which top models carry price tags of about $1.2 million.
“Rather than expend all our resources hoping sales will come in time,” he wrote Oct. 5, “we decided the best course of action was to ‘right-size’ our workforce to what is needed to complete the work we already have until I can secure adequate investment to move forward.”
Wolstenholme also cited problems in the aircraft insurance market contributing to the company crisis, but he did not elaborate further.
However, liability insurance for pilots who own and fly Evolutions has become more expensive and harder, but not impossible, to come by, said an aviation insurance broker in Hillsboro. Recent accidents, including one in July that killed the pilot and a passenger in Arizona and another in May in California in which the aircraft windshield “exploded” at 25,000 feet, are contributing to higher insurance costs, said Jason Wissmiller, of Regal Aviation Insurance.
“The insurance marketplace for Evolution aircraft owners has shrunk,” Wissmiller said Friday. “Some companies have thrown up their hands and said we’re no longer insuring that aircraft. There’s still a market for it, but it’s more expensive than what the expense was a year ago.”
The company has sold more than 85 Evolution aircraft, according to the company website.
In his message, Wolstenholme wrote that he was working with prospective investors but added, “any of you that might know someone who is seriously interested in discussing this opportunity with me, please let me know.”
Some laid-off Evolution workers may find jobs with another, unidentified local company interested in hiring them, according to the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. The East Cascades Workforce Investment Board is searching for state funding to subsidize wages for former Evolution workers who need retraining but are hired by the unidentified second company, according to an update to the COIC board on Thursday.
Fifteen to 20 laid-off employees could be eligible if funding becomes available, said Heather Ficht, COIC executive director.
“Many of these folks have already been scooped up,” she said Friday. “I think they’re getting scooped up real quick, but they’re not necessarily staying in the industry.”
Evolution was incorporated in March as a subsidiary of Lancair International Inc., according to Oregon Secretary of State records. Wolstenholme is listed as a principal in both organizations. He purchased a majority interest in Lancair in 2010, according to The Bulletin archives.
Evolution buyers must assemble most of the aircraft themselves, although the company provides assistance. Lancair moved to Redmond in 1991 and purchased its facility in the business park adjacent the Redmond Airport in 2015.
Wolstenholme wrote that the “business has no bank debt and all assets have been secured and are available as needed.” He said one of the company’s biggest tasks is supporting the Evolution aircraft still in service, although the company had no one to answer its phones and could only take messages for later replies.
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