Few can relate more directly to that statement than Tamarack Aerospace Founder and CEO Nick Guida. Over the course of more than a year, the developer and manufacturer of the ATLAS active winglet system for the Citation CJ line of business jets was faced with the ultimate test: an EASA and FAA emergency AD followed by a fleet grounding. In the wake of those events, the company filed for bankruptcy protection last June as it sought to get the effected aircraft flying again and restore customers’ confidence in their product. In July, the AD was resolved by requiring all aircraft to comply with Service Bulletin 1480. Since then, the company has sought to make things right for its customers by offering the SB 1480 free of charge and resetting the warranty time period regardless of when the installation occurred. The company is also on solid footing with an infusion of $1.95 million from a group of customers, vendors and supporters.
For its founder Guida, this was a painful chapter that didn’t necessarily need to happen. An engineer with more than 30 years of applied experience, he not only developed the ATLAS system but did much of the flight testing for Tamarack himself. Last month, I sat down with Nick to get the real story regarding the events that led to the AD and what the future looks like for the company.
Q: Can you share on the details of what when on with the emergency AD?
Guida: The details of the emergency AD are very relevant because the amount of misinformation abounds, and it is important to set the record straight. Many surprises awaited us on this journey of discovery and crisis.
The AD was triggered by a false pilot report. The details of the event were highly sensationalized, which prompted EASA to act quickly. Factually, the aircraft response to the fault matched the behavior seen in certification flight testing during simulated failures (easily recoverable). Every conceivable failure condition was flown during the certification process, including flying with one winglet completely removed. For each failure mode, it was required that all the flight characteristic tests including stalls, takeoff and landings, high speed, low speed and single-engine controllability were performed. You can imagine the FAA, EASA and Tamarack’s surprise when they read that the pilot reported a 90 degree roll in 1 second. It was so different from the results of all the failure mode testing that it caused the immediate grounding of the fleet in the EU. Subsequently, it was no surprise when it was shown through AHRS data obtained from the plane that the actual roll rate matched the flight test at 4.5 degree per second.
The incident was completely preventable; the existing service bulletins were available up to 51 weeks prior, but not installed. When it was confirmed that the year-old SB would have prevented the incident, that was not a surprise either. It was very unfortunate, considering the facts, that the AD was allowed to persist for another eight weeks.
As for the FAA delayed response five weeks later, it was no surprise that an AD was issued, but the surprise came in the form of an egregious misstep in the wording of the FAA AD, which incorrectly implicated Tamarack in an ongoing accident investigation. The NTSB was surprised by this language as well as GAMA and even some members and elements of the FAA. The recent 737 Max grounding created an environment that was extremely sensitive and regulatory agencies were on high alert.
Once all the dust settled, the flight restrictions were lifted using the two SBs Tamarack had issued up to a year prior to the triggering event, and this was accomplished only after the FAA and EASA conferred with the NTSB and the AAIB.
Q: Since the AD has been lifted, the fleet is back in the air. What steps is Tamarack taking to “get back in the air” following bankruptcy filing?
Guida: On Monday, Sept. 23, Tamarack filed the Chapter 11 emergence plan. This plan gets all creditors paid and keeps the shareholders intact. This is great news for everyone. Tamarack needs to continue with making sales, fighting misinformation and picking up where we left off with our new projects.
Q: What does this mean in terms of supporting your existing customer base?
Guida: What this means to our 96-plus current customers is “business as usual” along with the same amazing support our team has always provided. Our customers have amassed well over 20,000 flight hours now and we will be here to grow and support the fleet.
Q: Why did you decide to return to the company as CEO, and what does it mean for the company, its products and customers?
Guida: I have always been involved with Tamarack even when I was not on site. I had been working with our engineering team on military projects, the CJ3 investigation and business development. As the largest shareholder, it was in my best interest to provide uninterrupted assistance and guidance. When the AD hit and the events surrounding it were so spurious, I needed to return to a leadership role to help make an impact. We are now going after sales and working on new projects while looking to bring some existing unused patents to market. Our existing and future customers can rely on the Tamarack team and me to take the company to the next level of service.
Q: For the CitationJet, CJ1, CJ2 and CJ3, ATLAS offers marked improvements in performance, range and fuel economy without the weight penalty of traditional winglets. What are your customers telling you regarding their real-world experiences with the system?
Guida: Our customers are reporting incredible gains in all facets of performance. One huge benefit that stands out for the 525 and 525A is the range increase. Because the aircraft can now climb to the higher flight levels, the fuel savings (range increase) is dramatic. Some of our customers have added an hour of endurance to their aircraft (at max continuous thrust) and even more at long range cruise. Our customers are
making nonstop flights now where a fuel stop was always required before winglets. Saving money on fuel is always important. We have a few customers that are not completely satisfied and we are working with them to resolve their concerns.
The single-engine climb performance is greatly increased, and the stability and ride smoothing are blatantly apparent. The increase in MZFW of 800 pounds is a huge benefit to the 525A customers because maximum zero fuel weight is often reached on normal missions, while the modest 400 pounds MZFW increase on all the other 525 variants is used on the shorter flights but not as often as the 525A. Most of the customers and public alike comment on the aesthetic appeal the winglets provide. Some of our CJ3 customers are making very long legs now and appreciate the stability. There are many testimonials on our website that attest to the amazing performance our customers are realizing.
Q: What’s next for Tamarack?
The next year for Tamarack is going to be an exciting one. We are steadfastly working on getting our message of truth and facts to the public. In the meantime, emerging from Chapter 11 by year’s end will help us accelerate our military and commercial projects. We have been approached by several organizations that have interest in investigating active winglets on a platform of their choice and we are interested in finding strategic partners to hasten the commercialization of this unique product.