Van’s Aircraft Lawsuit from another angle


By now, most homebuilders have heard that Van’s Aircraft, the largest company in homebuilding, is being sued for millions of dollars over what most people consider a baseless claim. While rank and file homebuilders may see this as just another get rich quick scheme from an ambulance chasing attorney and a lottery ticket mentality client, I would like to draw your attention to another possibility to explain the motivation for such a suit.


I have seen the ugly underbelly of homebuilding and written a number of stories about it. These do not endear the powerful in our industry. If you have not read them, take 10 minutes to read this: Expert Witnesses in civil Aviation trials. and this one also: An opinion in search of a lawsuit. Because it relates to this story, it is worth looking at ‘hired guns’ in homebuilding: 2,500 words about levels of aircraft finish……


A bit of history: 20 years ago Mooney was going broke producing a few dozen planes a year. The perceived that part of their issue was they were trying to sell very expensive 4 seat, 250mph planes, but many potential customers were instead opting to have ‘hired guns’ build them a 4 seat, 350 mph Lancair IV-P, because it was pressurized, went 100 mph faster on the same fuel burn, and finished up about $100K less. (If you question this history, read the ‘hired gun’ story above, where I confess to being one of these people.) Mooney successfully lobbied the FAA to issue a directive to all the DAR’s in the country to have them specifically deny airworthiness certificates to Lancair IV’s they suspected of being built by hired guns. It had little effect, there was a lot of money in the game, and owners who wanted to get around the letter could always find a DAR who liked green money. But, none the less, it was established that high end homebuilts were the potential economic enemy of overpriced or antiquated certificated designs. The main reason why Mooney didn’t get far was they had no money nor strong influence in industry. A few years later they ended their run as a public company, and their stock was bought back for something like 17 cents a share.


Fast forward to todays lawsuit: First a disclaimer: I have no evidence that my point here is the actual motivation, or partial motivation for the suit. What I am doing here is discussing the possibility that it is, and my suspicions. That is called my right to think, and it isn’t actionable slander nor libel. Read the idea, consider it, come to your own conclusions. It would be very nice if my idea was proven to be paranoid, but I have learned it is not wise to place great faith in all humans when a lot of money is involved.


Read the lawsuit carefully. It describes homebuilding as a ‘loop hole” in the federal regulations. (this is a joke, but consider the possible goal) It also mentions that parties that produce certificated aircraft like Cirrus and Mooney, suffer economic damage from homebuilding. (In the era of ‘hired guns’ and lax enforcement of rules, this was partially true, but your average RV builder isn’t detracting anything from certificated sales today)  Although I have no direct evidence, I have some strong suspicions that today’s ownership of certificated planes strongly supports the wording of this lawsuit, and would gleefully support a decision that would cripple Van’s Aircraft, particularly if it would knock the RV-10 from the market place.


In the 1990’s Money was powerless to sustain an attack on homebuilding because they were going broke. Conversely, today Both Cirrus and Mooney are owned by a very deep pocket, The government of the Peoples ‘Republic’ of China.  Read the words of the lawsuit and decide for yourself who’s interest it is in that homebuilts be considered a “loop hole”.


You will not hear any discussion from official sources, nor industry people about the potential role of deep pockets in this lawsuit.  In the ‘new EAA’ a company like Cirrus is more important than Van’s aircraft.  This is an effect of having the ‘big tent’ approach and forgetting what the first initial of the EAA stands for. Our President, is the former CEO of Cessna who moved the C-162 production to China. I suspect he has a great number of friends from the PRC, and recognizes that they are too big a contributor to the ‘corporate’ EAA to be pissed off.


It is very hard to overstate the influence of foreign money in general aviation today.  Read this: Communist Chinese government at Oshkosh, for a bit of perspective. If you want to have a clearer picture of how they also own a lot of ‘journalists’, go back and read how many prominent writers came out of the woodwork when the Chinese bought Continental motors to write positive reviews of how great this was going to be for everyone. You would have to be a stooge to think that these were not written for money or serious perks. Consider this when reading any industry persons comments, or even considering why they would be silent when a great company like Van’s is being attacked by a baseless lawsuit.


If you think this all sounds preposterous, do a little research and read up on how Superior engines, once an American owned business, was purchased by the Chinese. Their major competitor was ECI. Superior supported an all out effort to get the FAA to issue a massive AD on ECI products. ‘Engine experts’ pretending to be on no ones payroll, chimed in on this in support of Superior. In time this drastically affected the value of ECI as a business.  And just like that, Superior turned around and Purchased ECI, at a greatly reduced value. Follow that: A foreign owned company plays a role lobbying the US federal agency, the FAA to take an action that will reduce the value of a US owned company so they can buy it cheaper. After the sale, the same ‘engine experts’ are silent about ECI’s products. If Van’s aircraft is laid low by a judgment in this suit, have zero surprise if the Chinese government shows up as a new potential owner.




My favorite lie ever told at Oshkosh: When Kim Winner, Continental’s marketing rep. at Oshkosh was asked about the company moving production from the US to China, she came up with this spin: She told everyone present that this was just the company moving parts to China to ‘service the underground private flying market in China that the Government didn’t know about’.  I asked how it was that Continental could be owned by the Chinese government, and be shipping parts to people who were allegedly flying Continental powered light aircraft in China, yet the same government, in a police state, would be totally unaware that such flying was taking place. No answer. Evidently the people who dreamed up that spin for Kim to present at Oshkosh were from the same school as the ones who told a guy from Arkansas that saying he “didn’t inhale” would allow him to pass as an honest person.




11 Replies to “Van’s Aircraft Lawsuit from another angle”

  1. Funny that you should name Cirrus as one of the potential backers of this attack on Van’s since they started in the homebuilt market and then switched to the certified market. Frankly I find it difficult to understand why would buy a certified aircraft when a quick build kit from Van’s is such an easy option.

    1. Sarah,

      The Book “China Airborne” by James Fallows is an unflinching look at their involvement in aviation. There is a great story in there about how Klapmeier put up a banner for his Chinese ‘investors’ welcoming them with the word “Partner”. When they walked in and say it the told him to take it down right away, because they were the new Owners, not partners with anyone. Klapmeiers started with the VK-30 experimental pusher, which was a disaster for a number of concerning reasons. How these people are thought of as visionaries in American aviation is beyond me.

  2. “On principle,” the lawyers sue everyone they can think of, especially companies or individuals with deep pockets. If the plantiff wins, the deep pocket guys will likely have to pay the most money, regardless of the depth of their involvement.

    There was a suit many years ago against a motorcycle helmet manufacturer because of the death of a rider. The thing was, the guy was not wearing a helmet, much less that manufacturers helmet. There was another helmet case where the unfortunate rider was wearing a helmet, but his head was run over by the rear wheels of a loaded dump truck. Logic, common sense, and fair play are not participants in the tort process.

    1. One other spin on that game the law allows the sharks to play is getting those deep pockets on board as rediculus as it may seem so they can use them to pay what the others cannot. I have heard a strange thing that even if you are only found to be 1% to blame you can end up getting the entire bill if the others have no significant funds or property. Seems grossly unfair but in lawyer-think that is protecting those poor people who suffered a loss (and helps insure they get their cut, usually about 1/3 the award). I am not sure what shape Van’s financials are but they could be stuck with the cost of any award thanks to our tort system. It would be a shame to see them destroyed by this. It was fear of such suits that helped get Rutan out of the homebuilt market, or so he claims.

      1. Interesting comments and true all, but keep in mind lawyers have not only focused on homebuilts. Big tin manufacturers as well as any of the few FBO’s who still can rent a plane have costs out of sight because of the tort responsibilities involved. And not only aviation–it has ruined most other activities we wish to engage in. Also to Sarah, with absolutely no argument nor disrespect, your comment about “lawyer think”, they’ll profess to protecting the poor people who suffered a loss (which I think we all do) but I’m thinking it’s more about lawyers protecting their own financial status

  3. Larry I think we are on the same page here. There are persons out there who are seriously harmed by others peoples actions whether though their direct action or the knowingly defective product they sell. Going through the motions of taking them to court and getting a just settlement can be very expensive and few victims can afford paying their way up front. So we have the lawyer being noble and takes the case on gets paid out of the proceeds.

    That is the perfect world scenario and what the laws were written for. Now we get this totally distorted implementation of the law where people get sued even when it is fairly clear that they have no responsibility. Given the outrageous amounts of jury awards many companies (or more precisely their insurance companies) will settle long before then and cut their potential loss. And the lawyers take advantage of all this and keep getting richer by perverting the legal system. Add to that the people who try to take any imagined harm into a lottery win.

    The really hard part of bringing this under control is to still allow for proper compensation of true victims and cut off those who are undeserving. And of course any attempt to reform the system will always be fought off tooth and nail by those great humanatarians, the lawyers who are the ones getting rich off the system as it stands now.

  4. There is a set up I rarely hear folks mention: 1) By law, publicly traded corporations MUST act first to create the most dollar return for their stockholders, NOTprotect/care about the consumer. 2) Tort law takes ‘advantage’ of same. It would be so much simpler, fairer, and better for everyone if the law mandated at least balanced interests of the consumer first, self, in the case of an entrepreneur like me, and shareholder, if any, second. Yeah, I know, someone’s thinking: “You’d have to wear a GoPro 24/7 to prove you had the consumer’s interest at heart. Ah… I remember,… I’m basically a loner, eschew committee type work whenever possible, keep a low profile, love everyone…. often from a distance, sometimes infinite in scope. Libertarians would be so much more effective, except they lack the social skills and desire to ‘herd up’. {;^)

  5. Very nice theory, and most likely true in many cases you cited, but not true in this case with Vans. I knew this family, truly distraught from the loss of their father and granddaughter and unfortunately a frivolous lawyer has convinced them of this baseless lawsuit. If US is going to survive we desperately need tort reform.

    1. Andy,
      Thanks for sharing your personal knowledge. I do not hold grieving people accountable for their initial emotional reactions to tragedies, they are just humans. But I do believe that eventually they should not allow their personal loss to be used as a money making vehicle by other parties. I agree that the system is broken. -ww.

  6. BAM! But then we the people are stepped on and kicked to the curb every time and made out to be the villain. All areas of law are coming against us.

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