A group of U.S.-based general aviation aircraft owners and pilots have taken majority ownership of the financially challenged airplane manufacturer Mooney International, pledging to support airplane owners, provide transparency, and make Mooney more competitive.
Mooney Acclaim aircraft owner, pilot, and CEO Jonny Pollack is part of an investor group with an 80-percent stake in the company that was previously owned by Chinese investors and mostly shuttered in early January with two partially completed aircraft still on the factory floor.
In a letter posted to the aircraft maker’s website September 2, Pollack noted that “reports of Mooney’s death are greatly exaggerated. Mooney is, in fact, very much alive, up and running.” The letter indicated changes at Mooney were “long overdue,” and include a “new culture” reflective of the brand’s loyal owners. Pollack’s letter pointed out that the transition includes new management “made up entirely of pilots and Mooney owners giving the company a unique and valuable perspective going forward.”
Mooney pilots prize their aircraft for their economy and stoutness. Ailerons are activated by pushrods for instant response. Low-slung seats and a flight deck cocoon cradle the occupants and give the speedy airplane a sports car feel. The flagship $719,000 M20 Ovation Ultra and $799,000 Acclaim Ultra models now have two entry doors. The popular Mooney M20J 201 model coaxed 201 mph from a fuel-injected 200-horsepower Lycoming four-cylinder engine that burned about 10 gallons of fuel per hour.
Mooney service center expert Don Maxwell, who leads owner-maintenance seminars, offered words of encouragement for the Mooney community. He praised Pollack as a pilot who “just loves airplanes” and has intentions of supporting the latest Garmin-equipped digital cockpit “long-body” Acclaim and Ovation models as well as the popular line of older retractables, including more than 1,400 M20J models and countless more of the popular “short body” M20C, -E, -F, and -G models.
“This has been a rocky road,” said Maxwell, a Texan who professed a love for Mooneys that began in 1968. He said plans for a weight increase on the newer models could “open the aircraft up to parachutes and anything else” that technology might bring. Of significance to current owners, Maxwell said that the weight increase—which has long been advocated by owners—is “retrofittable back to the 205” model and “owners are super excited” about the potential useful load and safety benefits. The measure could put the manufacturer on solid ground to battle market leader Cirrus Aircraft’s whole-airplane parachute safety message.
Pollack owned a Mooney M20J 201 for 15 years before upgrading to an Acclaim. “It’s the greatest airplane on the planet. As far as the durability, the way it flies, and the efficiency—you just can’t beat a Mooney—you can’t even come close. If you’ve ever seen how these things are built, they’re like a Ferrari in the sky. Everybody pours their heart and soul into every aircraft. The problem with that is while we’re pouring our heart and soul into it—our competition is pouring plastic into a mold.”
Pollack became involved with the company after “some initial inquiries in 2019” when financial troubles resurfaced amid a trade war between the United States and China. Factory workers were initially caught off-guard when the company furloughed staff in November. Workers were called back in December to hand-drive rivets and curve sheet metal, then given time off for the winter holidays. When they returned, they were abruptly told to go home, again.
“I’ve been running Mooney behind the scenes, literally since January, and we’ve been able to make parts and keep the brand alive,” Pollack told AOPA. “Most of the folks involved in Mooney [in the past] have wanted to do the same things, but we want to avoid that. Our goal is to put Mooney on solid footing as a parts manufacturer—to stabilize the patient, so to speak—and then pursue future innovations ... I’m a Mooney owner and in all candor, I never had an intimate relationship with the company. I want to change that. I want the company to be transparent. I want to reach out to the community.”
Pollack said a weight-saving carbon cowl for Ovation models is under development, but “the big thing we’re working on is a useful load retrofit. This is a big one, this is a game changer.” A useful load increase of 300 pounds to 500 pounds could pave the way for a whole-airplane parachute, new landing gear designs, and additional utility that could “change the platform” and put the company “in a position to really compete.” However, he stressed that supporting the existing fleet remains the top priority.
The company is also considering a factory certification process that would include Mooney engineers scouring airframes to rehab them in-house and warranty the aircraft for one year. Pollack theorized the program could increase an aircraft’s value and provide owners with additional security. More distant plans include the potential for a weight increase that could work on the J model; converting a Mooney M20J 201 into a training platform “at some point in the future” is a possibility, he said.
Pollack reiterated, however, that the biggest message to Mooney owners is to “be patient” because the changes are “going to take a minute.” All of the resources are “literally going to keeping the lights on, and to make sure we have parts availability, and I’m going to fight like the dickens to make it happen.”