October 6, 2010
By Alton K. Marsh
After closing down its website and shutting down its phones in September, the OurPlane fractional ownership company that once provided a nationwide fleet of Cirrus SR22 airplanes to its customers has declared bankruptcy. Left in the same Reston, Va., location as the former OurPlane is a company started nine months ago, Exclusive Jetz, offering fractional ownership of the Embraer Phenom 100.
Both companies are owned by Graham Casson. The company had tried to buy a fleet of Eclipse jets, but was not successful. In an interview with AOPA ePilot, Casson blamed the economy for the company’s demise.
OurPlane, incorporated in 1998 but started business in 2000, added locations in Houston (with a Cessna 182T planned for Sugar Land Regional Airport), Los Angeles (at Van Nuys and John Wayne airports, with a Cirrus SR22 at each), and Westchester County, New York—in addition to its New York-area base, in Oxford, Conn. (Westchester was to get an SR22.) The company offered aircraft at airports in Toronto, Calgary, San Diego, San Francisco, and Vancouver, B.C. By 2006, the fleet had risen to 21 Cirrus and Cessna aircraft. At first, the business plan seemed to be working.
“We have only a 5-percent turnover rate on our general aviation fractional shares,” OurPlane CEO Casson said several years ago, with pilots typically only opting out for reasons such as loss of a medical certificate or relocation. Casson said several years ago he was able to deliver on the company's promise of 95-percent aircraft availability, with the average aircraft flying one to two hours a day and 30 to 45 hours a month. Another part of the business plan was to obtain Eclipse jets and offer them as fractional ownership aircraft, but the aircraft were tied up in bankruptcy courts following the demise of the original Eclipse factory. Eclipse now has new owners.
A fractional ownership subscription lasted five years, and Casson had promised to sell and renew the aircraft every five years. He said he was not getting enough new and renewing customers to continue to do that. Airplanes were retired from fractional ownership every five years to avoid high maintenance costs, he said.
Several owners of shares in the company now say they did not get their investment money back as they had expected. In particular, he was asked about customer Robert Hyam's remark that 33 former customers have hired a criminal attorney.
Casson was interviewed from his home outside of Toronto where he spends 75 percent of his time when not in Reston. “We're following the bankruptcy process as dictated by the law,” Casson said. “There’s been no criminal activity at all. OurPlane Corp. owned all of our aircraft. We had clear title to all of the aircraft. We sold them as per the proper process through title companies. All the proceeds from all the sales were distributed to the secure lien holders on each of the aircraft. That was all done through the title companies there in Oklahoma City.
“I understand there’s some unhappy customers, but those that are unhappy are the ones that did not secure their refund via a lien on their aircraft. That option was always available to them. It’s built right into the fractional share purchase agreement. If our customers didn’t follow through on that option then that’s unfortunate.”
Casson estimated more than 30 to 40 customers have received money. There were two to three investors on each aircraft, on average, that did get refunds, Casson said.
By Dave Hirschman
Robert Hyam, 51, bought into OurPlane about five years ago and flew a Cirrus SR22 based in Van Nuys, Calif.
"I put in $53,000 up front and absolutely loved flying that airplane," said Hyam, an instrument-rated private pilot with about 1,200 hours total flying time. "None of us had enough money to buy a new airplane ourselves, but the (fractional ownership) idea was sound. It could have worked."
Hyam said he received assurances from OurPlane that he and other investors would be reimbursed right up until the airplanes were sold and the business closed its doors. He said many of the aircraft were sold weeks ago, but investors were never notified.
"We may not be able to get any of our money back through the bankruptcy court, but there are 33 of us and we've hired a criminal attorney and we're going to try to put Graham in jail."
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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