Grounded AeroVanti wants to get back in the air by placing its aircraft with third-party charter operators; new CEO says it owes $19 million for unpaid sports sponsorships to the Cubs, Buccaneers, and NHL Panthers.
It turns out members and trade creditors weren’t the only ones stiffed by AeroVanti. According to new Chairman and CEO Scott Hopes, the grounded Piaggio membership provider owes $19 million to professional sports teams for sponsorships, which were never paid.
Hopes told members, “We have been negotiating settlements on those and have successfully negotiated with the Florida Panthers and thank them for their willingness to work with us on a very favorable settlement.”
It also owes trade creditors between $4 million and $6 million.
There is as much as $31 million in flight credits owed to members.
At its peak, the 2021 start-up had over 400 members.
However, in an interview earlier this morning, Hopes says he is optimistic that the membership program will fly again.
The company is negotiating with a trio of charter operators to begin flying again, this time under Part 135.
The operator had been under scrutiny from the FAA for its previous operations, which it was conducting on Part 91F, which allows for cost-sharing but isn’t intended for commercial operations.
Hopes said the first Piaggio, which could be flying within weeks, will likely operate to serve several members via dry leases.
He said the owner of the tail will be the principal user and any dry lease arrangements will be vetted by the FAA.
In the interview Hopes said, “I appreciate the overwhelming support I’ve gotten from members, and shareholders. They have stepped up to the plate with patience and even moral support.”
Aerovanti has been grounded since June, a story we exclusively reported, which Founder and former Chairman and CEO Patrick Britton-Harr denied.
In July, Britton-Harr was indicted on charges of Medicare fraud via several unrelated businesses.
The Department of Justice asserted that Britton-Harr used those gains to launch AeroVanti in mid-2021.
In various lawsuits, members had accused Britton-Harr of using their funds for sponsorships with the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NASCAR racing, and The Preakness.
Since AeroVanti partners weren’t paid, Hopes said he does not know where the money went.
He also said he plans to address possible confusion with AeroVanti Yacht Club, which Britton-Harr launched in January.
Two sources said the yacht club is still being operated by Britton-Harr. He reportedly held an even in Fort Lauderdale seeking to recruit members earlier this month.
In an email to members on Sept. 14, Hopes said he has consolidated operations that were split between Maryland and Florida at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
While Hopes had said he wanted to restart flying in August, there is currently no set date for a restart.
In his latest update, Hopes listed various tails as being ready to fly between later this month and December.
The company received a $2 million loan from Britton-Harr’s brother as interim financing. However, all of that money was not available to the company.
Hopes told members that $572,305 is being used to return aircraft to service efforts, legal expenses, and facility rent.
In the email he told members that he would restart collecting monthly membership fees once a firm date was set.
While AeroVanti had been marketing flights under $2,000 per hour, he wrote, “Our financial analysis on aircraft operations suggests that the new total costs to operate flights in the P180s will be somewhere between $2,750 to $2,875 per hour inclusive of crew, fuel, aircraft and maintenance reserves, cost per hour will increase on shorter flights due to crew per diem costs.”
Hopes, in the email, disputed some claims from employees, who say they are owed money.
He wrote, “[W]hen I assumed the positions of Chairman & CEO, the bank accounts had been closed by the bank, there was no revenue, no reserves, large and significant debt, staff had gone unpaid for 6-8 weeks as were contract pilots, and the company had unsustainable overhead costs. In effect, the company furloughed staff on or around June 5, 2023. Many had claimed pay being due, but little documentation had been provided to support actual work effort. We did bring back aircraft maintenance crew to get started on returning aircraft to service and were able to fund that with loan proceeds…”
The company is also facing multiple lawsuits alleging fraud, although Hopes said he is attempting to settle the claims.
Hopes said during the telephone interview, “This is really restarting a company. It’s not quite like starting from ground zero, because you do have customers who want to fly.”
As part of the restructuring, Hopes expects to ask members to trade flight credits for equity.
He also said the company will need to raise between $8-to-$11 million to get it to a sustainable operation.
Hopes said several bidders for Piaggio Aviation have expressed an interest in supporting AeroVanti. The Italian OEM has been under administration since 2018.
“There was nothing wrong with the original vision of affordable private aviation. Not at the level they were charging. There can be something that is a good value, and that’s something members tell me they are interesting in seeing if we can get there,” he said.
For his part, Hopes wrote to members last week that he is “not currently receiving compensation, nor expense reimbursements.”