Mysterious Holding Company : Newport Beach Firm Buys Piper Aircraft

Times Staff Writer

Romeo Charlie, a Newport Beach holding company about which there is virtually no public information, has acquired Lear Siegler's Piper Aircraft subsidiary, a 50-year-old, general aviation manufacturer based in Vero Beach, Fla., Piper officials said Tuesday.

In a terse prepared statement, officials said that "the new ownership announced its intention to reestablish Piper as the unchallenged leader worldwide, with a full range of general aviation aircraft."

What that means, however, remains to be seen. C. Raymond Johnson, Piper's vice president of marketing and sales, refused to divulge any information about the new owners, except to say that Romeo Charlie was "formed expressly for the purchase of Piper Aircraft."

Johnson also refused to release details of the sale, though he said the company would stay in Vero Beach and would not move to Orange County. Lear Siegler officials refused to comment on the sale.

Lear Siegler, Piper's Santa Monica-based parent, paid $294 million for Piper in 1984, after the aircraft maker posted $60 million in combined losses during the prior two years. Analysts believe that Piper's losses continued after its sale to Lear Siegler and made the conglomerate vulnerable to a takeover. One analyst put Piper's 1985 losses at about $10 million.

After unsuccessful takeover attempts by AFG Partners and Wickes Cos., Lear Siegler was purchased in January by the New York investment firm of Forstmann Little & Co.

Ed Stimpson, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Assn. of which Piper is a member, said Piper makes a full range of planes, from small training airplanes to the Cheyenne IV, a nine-seat, executive turboprop plane. In 1986, the company sold 326 airplanes--about 22% of the 1,495 general aviation aircraft sold in the United States during the year--and reported sales of $80.6 million, Stimpson said.

The California secretary of state's corporate status office lists Romeo Charlie as an active California corporation in good standing. The company was incorporated on Nov. 26, 1986, but has yet to file a statement of officers, which lists the company's management and board of directors.

The address listed is that of the company's Newport Beach attorney, Richard J. Schwarzstein, who also refused to comment on the firm or the sale.

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