Recently, AgAir Update had the opportunity to visit with Mark McDonald and Clint Hubbard, two of the new owners of Thrush Aircraft, LLC in Albany, Georgia. After going into Chapter 11, Thrush Aircraft, Inc. has reemerged as Thrush Aircraft, LLC with new leadership and a renewed vision for its product line in both the agricultural aviation and the firefighting industry. The company is no stranger to reorganization. Originally Ayres Corporation, founded in the 1970s by Fred Ayres, a spin-off from Rockwell International, Ayres Corporation was responsible for the S2R type, which is what all modern-day Thrush aircraft are. In 2003, Thrush Aircraft, Inc. was formed from Ayres Corporation and enjoyed a bountiful run introducing new product/engine combinations until several decisions led to the company being forced to seek new ownership. The new leaders of Thrush Aircraft, LLC have an optimistic and systematic approach to bringing the brand back into the mainstream with emphasis on customer and product support like never before.
AgAir Update: Who is Mark McDonald?
Mark McDonald: I started my career working with GE for 13 years, first in locomotives, then moved into aviation. From there, I transitioned to AAR Corp., eventually leading their manufacturing and heavy overhaul divisions – all aerospace-related. I worked directly for the CEO. After my time with AAR and a period of consulting for airlines and private equity, I moved overseas to work with Rolls Royce to lead their commercial large engine business. I returned to the US working in Rolls Royce’s energy business before being hired by a private equity firm to serve as CEO of an engine component manufacturing company. I worked there until retirement, and now, out of retirement to revitalize Thrush Aircraft. My wife, Julie, and I have a daughter and three sons, one of whom works here at the factory.
AAU: How did you learn of Thrush Aircraft and their current (at the time) situation?
MM: I had a chance meeting at church with a gentleman from IOMAX Corporation, who was in partnership with Thrush to produce a light attack aircraft. I went on my first flight in the aircraft later that year. Thrush called IOMAX to ask for help last August. Clint and I came down to see how we could help Thrush. After the former ownership decided to file for reorganization, we stepped in to fund the company through the reorganization and then later bought the assets.
AAU: Who is involved with the ownership side of the new Thrush Aircraft, LLC?
MM: Myself, Clint Hubbard, who comes from IOMAX and John Graber. Clint and his wife, Laurie, have three daughters. Clint has over 30 years of experience, much of which was running large manufacturing companies. John and his wife Mary have one son. John doesn’t have any history with IOMAX or Thrush, but has an extensive aviation background, from Medivacs to 757s. John also has been a CEO of a couple of aviation companies. Here at Thrush, I serve as the CEO, Clint serves as the CFO and John is a Board Member.
AAU: You have recently installed a new management team, who is involved?
MM: Some old and new faces make up our new management team. We hired Michael Rutledge to lead our North American sales activities. Byron Amador is our Central American rep and we have eight dealers that support us around the world. Kevin Pierce is our Director of Services, which is a new position we created to handle aircraft that are in the field and to bring a new customer service experience to owners and operators of Thrush Aircraft. I handle international sales opportunities.
AAU: What did you see in Thrush Aircraft that presented itself as an opportunity?
MM: Clint and myself met with the previous owners and after the first phone call we knew they were in trouble. It was clear the company was going to file for reorganization. At that point, our main objective became for the company to survive so we could rebuild. Clint and I created a financial company that helped Thrush through the bankruptcy proceedings. This was the initial objective. However, the more time we spent around the company and its employees, the more time we were involved with the industry, we realized the situation the company was in was not due to a faulty product, or a poor market, and hence there was a great opportunity to bring the company back with some integral changes to the way it operated. The product is solid and now we will make the company solid.
AAU: What was the next step once you realized you were buying an agricultural aircraft manufacturer?
MM: We purchased all the assets on November 4, 2019. Then, Thrush Aircraft, Inc. ceased to operate. Our company, HHM Aircraft Financing, then changed our name to Thrush Aircraft, LLC to ensure we had brand continuity. After that, the first thing we did was talk to the employees. We held an all-hands meeting and put everything on the table. We listened to any and every suggestion. On a strategic level, we knew we had to bring people back to the workplace, we had to restart the supply chain and had to get orders coming in for aircraft. In fact, we are still hiring and have more than doubled the number of employees since November.
AAU: What are the immediate goals now that you own Thrush Aircraft?
MM: We are focused on stabilizing the company and improving its performance. We will deliver quality products, on-time and make sure adequate supply chains are in place. We are really improving and reimagining our service department; we have created a new staff position that will act as a resource to all operators to enhance all aspects of support they receive after the aircraft leaves the factory.
AAU: With the new owner’s background and history with the IOMAX corporation, how will that play into the new Thrush Aircraft?
MM: Our business model is agricultural aviation and firefighting. I’m not sure we will ever deliver another patrol aircraft and our business plan doesn’t count on any orders for the military market.
AAU: How about product lines? What’s changing? What’s staying the same?
MM: We will continue to support, build and promote the 510G and the 510P. We also have the assembly line up and running for the 710 series of aircraft. There are enhancements to existing models that will be announced soon.
AAU: So what is different about the new “Thrush Aircraft” than in the past?
MM: We have learned a tremendous amount from previous mistakes. We have emerged from Chapter 11, although very painful, with a company that has almost no debt. This allows us to put the resources into building the company into what it should be, an aircraft manufacturer of superb agricultural and firefighting aircraft with great aftermarket services. We are also implementing a new management style and doubling-down on customer support. We will be expanding our dealer network and encouraging our dealers to be a larger part of the overall conversation.
AgAir Update’s interview with Mark McDonald came to a close in the same conference room where we had conducted so many interviews about the Thrush company in one form or another. There was a noticeable difference this time. Mark, Clint and John have laid out a plan that is sure to allow Thrush Aircraft, LLC to reemerge better than before.