the Adam of Aircraft
Image by Esthr
While Raburn is building a company with vision and scale, CEO and founder Rick Adam of Adam Aircraft is more focused on the plane itself. The company’s first model is the A500, designed by Burt Rutan with a signature split tail. The body is made of ultra-light carbon fiber, and is built strip by strip (remember papier maché from grade school?) by workers who lay down sheets of adhesive-impregnated fiber inside molds. Compared to the Eclipse, the production process is more labor-intensive…but the design is more modular. The A500, flying since 2002 and certified May 2005, is a twin-piston. The A700, due for certification by the end of this year, is a slightly longer, twin-jet-powered version of the same design. It will cost about .2 million, says Adam. The key to the A series is modularity; the basic design can support a variety of engine, seat, cockpit and other configurations.
Adam’s announced customers include Pogo, with a cancelable order for 50 planes (though see page tk; airplane orders are typically cancelable until a plane gets certified). Adam’s plan is to ramp up to about 400 planes per year, with an expected mix of 80 jets to 20 propeller planes. He expects that about half of them will be used as air taxis, while half will go to individual owners.
He notes that Europe is an even more welcoming market for air taxis and shared services than the US. “The whole buzz of the [recent] air show in Geneva was VLJs and air taxis. Europe has 15 percent of the general aviations, but it looks to be about 30 percent of very light jets. [Unlike in the US,] 80 percent of the trips are within a thousand miles. “
And he notes, “Culturally Europeans are more likely to get into shared transportation. Wealthy people tend to manifest their wealth differently, and they aren’t as likely to want to own their own jet. The regulatory environment is a little harder, but the fractional guys have worked a lot of that out.”
As for the Adam/Eclipse rivalry, he comments: “Vern [Raburn] is a better visionary, but I can see the vision well enough to know we should be in this business. Vern is a breakthrough person. I’m incremental operating guy.”
He explains his previous entrepreneurial venture, New Era of Networks (NEON, sold to Sybase in 2001) as a similarly “incremental” idea: “The problem we solved at NEON – integrating multiple incompatible systems – was one I had seen and solved incrementally multiple times over eight years.” NEON was simply an independent company dedicated to productizing and selling that solution. The other thing he got out of that experience was a deep appreciation for scalability and modularity. Eclipse is focused on mass production (i.e. scalability of manufacture); Adam has a tendency to modularity, i.e. scalability of design and customization.
In short, Adam is more likely to be on the production floor than out with customers or in Washington. In 2004, he hired as his number-two and president Joe Walker, a veteran salesman: Walker was previously senior VP of worldwide sales for Gulfstream Aerospace. Before Gulfstream, Walker worked at Cessna Aircraft Company from 1975 to 1994 in sales, tech support, marketing and strategy.
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