July 14, 2009
By Alton K. Marsh
There’s hope yet, with only one possible catch, that the Commander single-engine aircraft will re-enter production. European banker Ronald Strauss, now living in Montreal, has purchased Commander Premier Aircraft—located in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The purchase was made under a corporation named Aero-Base of Montreal that was founded by Strauss. The deal was under discussion for a year but was delayed by the declining economy.
The sale was announced in a press release issued by Stonegate Capital Group officials Joel M. Hartstone and Claudia Horn who, until 18 months ago, served as the top officers of Commander Premier Aircraft. Their positions were turned over to members of the Commander Owners Group while Stonegate officials continued to look for a buyer.
The deal could fall through if Aero-Base fails to successfully negotiate the purchase of the 52,000-square-foot factory that is currently owned by the city of Cape Girardeau. Commander Premier Aircraft has not paid rent to the city since December 2007 and owes $491,500. The city still owes $2.2 million of a $2.8 million bond issue offered in 2001 to construct the building. The city may have to write off the back rent. Bond payments, plus the cleanup costs of winter storms and floods, have drained the city’s $1.4 million reserve fund to less than $100,000. The city received only $94,000 from Premier, according to a July 12 article in the Southeast Missourian and confirmed to AOPA Pilot by a city official. Strauss visited Cape Girardeau July 1 and 2 to discuss purchase of the factory.
Strauss is a former Commander owner and promises design advances when the aircraft is put back into production.
The deal only narrowly avoided a second trap when the chief investor of the former Commander Aircraft Company sold a note to the Burlington, Vt.-based Aerodyme Corp. Aerodyme, one of Commander Premier Aircraft’s original stockholders, owns an FAA supplemental type certificate to replace the original Commander engines with a larger 320-hp engine. That is critical to improving the performance of the aircraft and attracting sales. However, Aerodyme agreed, as have other creditors, to accept a discounted payoff that the investor had previously agreed to. Had Aerodyme not agreed, the deal would have failed. But Aerodyme wanted its money by Aug. 15, so the new deal is targeted to close in August.
If the deal is successful, city officials will welcome the fourth company that has promised to manufacture aircraft in the city-financed factory at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. The first three failed to make good on the promise, although Commander Premier Aircraft did at least manufacture parts and provide aircraft service.
The new owner of Commander Premier Aircraft, Ronald G. Strauss, said he plans to modernize the four-seat Commander with a larger engine and modern avionics. He described his future plans to AOPA Pilot in a telephone interview from Montreal
Strauss, who carries both French and Canadian passports, was born in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and lived in Belgium and Switzerland working for American banks. In 1999 he moved to Montreal with his Canadian wife. A 650-hour private pilot, he has not flown in two years but previously owned three airplanes, a Commander, a Beechcraft F33 Bonanza, and a Beechcraft Baron 58. The Baron was once owned by the late actor Christopher Reeves.
In the years since coming to Canada he said he has spent his time planning his aerospace ventures and raising the finances necessary to fund them. He was forced to leave his Baron behind in Europe. There were incomplete logbooks going back to the time that the Reeves estate sold the aircraft to a company in South Africa, and that would have made its import into Canada difficult.
“I am looking forward to putting back into production an airplane that lots of pilots loved,” Strauss said. “It is the Mercedes of the air and one of the best four-seaters on the market.” He says he wants to hold off announcing details of changes to the airplane until he talks with the Commander owners who currently operate the Commander Premier Aircraft Co. The company will now fall under the ownership of Aero-Base owned by Strauss.
Aero-Base is just that, a base for what Strauss hopes will be a larger number of aerospace companies. “It is my passion,” Strauss said. “I have always wanted to be in the aerospace business and be around pilots.” He said it is too soon to release details on those future acquisitions.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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