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Fri, Jun 23, 2006

Columbia Chief Says More Than 60 Planes Damaged In 'Freak' Storm

Oh, Hail

Two words have been on the minds of factory workers and managers at the Columbia Aircraft plant in Bend, OR these past ten days: "Oh, hail."

Out of nowhere, on June 12 the skies over Bend turned black... and suddenly, a freak storm dumped golfball-sized hail on the airport -- and on more than 60 Columbia aircraft parked on the ramp outside the factory.

Ironically, Columbia Aircraft CEO Bing Lantis missed the storm... as he was visiting the Atlanta offices of Columbia's lead insurance provider, AIG.

"I was giving a presentation on what a safe risk we are," said Lantis ruefully. "I'm told the hail came down suddenly... it was not a hot day, not the kind of day you'd associate with a storm at all."

Lantis adds workers only had time to pull one plane off the ramp before the hailstones came... and once the hail came, it pelted the ramp outside the factory for 12 minutes.

"Hailstones were hitting the runway and taxiway, and bouncing 10 feet in the air," Lantis says workers told him.

Lantis told ANN that the curved fuselages of the aircraft seemed to have withstood the hail attack well... in fact, for the first two days after the storm, it appeared there was no damage to the planes at all.

Upon further inspection, however, Lantis said "you can see marks where hailstones impacted the surfaces," when the light is right. The marks appear in the plane's normally glossy paint, he says -- with no apparent damage to the composite skin.

"We have a unique situation," Lantis said, "because there's never been a claim for hail damage on a Columbia -- and I would guess that's probably pretty true of any other composite airplane. It's a very durable material."

For now, though, there are insurance issues to settle... assessments to be completed. Lantis says that process could delay deliveries of completed aircraft for up to eight weeks.

Until that's over, he says Columbia's normal production capacity of two airplanes a day will be cut in half.



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