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Tue Feb 19, 2013, 10:13 AM

Beechcraft Exits Bankruptcy On Eve Of Air Force's Light Air Support Pick


Beechcraft's two prototype AT-6 "Texan II" attack planes in flight.

Beechcraft Exits Bankruptcy On Eve Of Air Force's Light Air Support Pick
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
Published: February 19, 2013

Wichita-based Beechcraft -- formerly Hawker Beechcraft -- has officially emerged from bankruptcy with a new name, 2,000 fewer employees, $2 billion less debt, and one last shot at a bitterly contested Air Force contract to provide ground attack planes to Afghanistan. The Air Force's decision on the Light Air Support program may come as early as this week.

Today's announcement puts a nail in the coffin of Sinophobic speculation that Beechcraft would sell out to Beijing. The Kansas-based aircraft manufacturer did accept a $50 million "non-refundable deposit" from a Chinese firm, Superior Aviation Beijing, that was interested in acquiring it. But concerns over Superior's business bona fides and the security of Beechcraft's defense programs ultimately scotched the deal.

So the reorganized Beechcraft will remain an American company -- albeit with a major facility in Chihuahua, Mexico. It will continue building T-6 military trainers for the Navy, although the Air Force has finished its T-6 buy. And it will still build "King Air" civil aircraft that are sometimes converted for the armed forces. What it will shed, along with the Hawker name, is its money-hemorrhaging line of business jets, a sector savaged by the recession.

Beechcraft's exit from Chapter 11, approved by the court on Feb. 1st, formally went into effect this past Friday, although it was only announced today. This coming Friday, the 22nd, the Air Force is expected to announce its (hopefully) final decision on the Light Air Support contract, a $355-plus million program to equip the fledgling Afghan Air Force with low-cost, low-tech, easy-to-operate propeller planes to strafe the Taliban once US jets withdraw.

on edit to add: This is a 20-plane, $355 million deal.

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