Aircraft builder makes staff changes

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Although it is more than two years behind its original estimates, the company that hopes to build aircraft in Cape Girardeau hasn't given up on the dream and has new management in place to push the project.

Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. announced Friday that it will switch the roles of four directors, putting Gregory Walker and Robert Tippens in the roles of president/chief executive officer and treasurer/chief financial officer, respectively, replacing Joel Hartstone and Claudia Horn, who had previously held the positions.

Hartstone and Horn of StoneGate Capital Group LLC will remain as members of the company board of directors.

"It is an ordinary progression," Hartstone said Monday. "That is the easiest way to explain this."

Walker and Tippens were part of a group of 50 Commander aircraft owners who banded together in 2005 to purchase the assets of the bankrupt Commander Aircraft Co., the previous manufacturer of the single-engine aircraft. The company located in Cape Girardeau late in 2005 and took over the hangar previously used by Renaissance Aircraft at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. Hartstone said at the time that he hoped to be building airplanes in Cape Girardeau by December 2005 and build up to 30 airplanes a year within two years.

The company currently employs only a handful of people in Cape Girardeau making parts and doing maintenance work on Commander aircraft built before 2002 by the former company.

"We started from nothing and created a company," Hartstone said.

"Now there are people, there is infrastructure and it is doing things. At that point, we have really worked ourselves out of a job in respect to those activities. All the activities we were doing up to now were organizational."

The company announced in March that it had received Federal Aviation Administration approval for the installation of parts made in Cape Girardeau, a major step toward building airplanes.

Hartstone and Horn will now turn their attention to financing the manufacturing arm of the company, Hartstone said.

According to a news release, the company has all the necessary equipment for full-scale assembly operations.

"We hope that this year we will turn out airplanes," Hartstone said.

Exactly when that will occur is uncertain, he said.

The company plans to build what is known as the Commander 115 with three variations. All three have a six-cylinder piston engine capable of flying about 160 mph, with the turbocharged version capable of about 200 mph.

When the company starts hiring, it will need about 40 employees in the first year and will employ 60 to 65 people a year later, Hartstone said.

"When we really have the switch ready to go from off to on, the hiring and recruiting and training will go into high gear," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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