Mooney International handed over the keys of its first newly built aircraft on July 29, marking the return of the high-performance single-piston engine Mooney aircraft lines to the market after a five-year hiatus.  The first buyer, the highest bidder of a Mooney auction at $646,000, is New York-based businessman Ricardo Pasco.

Pasco was among 29 fully qualified bidders and 107 who registered for the auction for the M20TN Acclaim Type S.  The aircraft is retaining its Continental TSIO-550-G turbo normalized engine but is equipped with upgraded Garmin G1000 avionics.   The first built aircraft has the tail number of 242 MR, which Mooney says stands for “242 Knots Mooney Rises,” symbolizing the aircraft’s top speed of 242 knots and the comeback of the once mothballed manufacturer to the market.

The proceeds from the first sale will be dedicated to the development of a new Mooney History Museum that will be at Mooney’s campus in Kerrville, Texas beginning in 2015.

The return of Mooney followed the investment of the firm by Chino, California, based Soaring America in a deal believed to be backed by Chinese funding.   Jerry Chen, who stepped in as CEO of the company following the investment, noted, “In less than a year we reactivated the manufacturing facility, hired more than 150 people, implemented state-of the-art technological advancements and introduced many new systems to improve our business.”

The company -– which rebranded from the former Mooney Aircraft to Mooney International to reflect its international status and to return to a former brand -– also moved its headquarters to Chino.  There the staff has built up to 50 people.

But Chen stressed that the manufacturing side would remain in Kerrville, where the company now has 100 employees.  Mooney is planning a slow ramp up of production of one per month in 2014, building up to two per month in 2015 with increases beyond that.  Mooney will be building both the Acclaim and Ovation.

The company has begun market outreach, with 14 orders so far –- a number the company is hopeful will climb now that the aircraft is back on the market.  Three of the orders are from Mooney’s Florida dealer, Premier Aircraft, while it has another 10 from China.

But Chen notes that with the airspace restrictions relaxing in China, Mooney will “be a large part” of that market.  The company is opening a new office in Beijing and named Peter Claeys vice president of sales and marketing there.

“After years of strict military control, the country is getting serious about permitting private flights within its borders,” Chen says.  But he notes that the general aviation market there still faces a number of challenges, including infrastructure, training and availability of aviation gasoline.

Asked whether Mooney would consider diesel engines for its models, the executives pointed to Continental and said it would depend on availability and indicated the possibility that they would work on diesel variants.

Mooney also has been eyeing training prospects for its new aircraft, partnering with Redbird Flight Simulations to develop simulators for Mooney training.  Mooney is buying three full-motion Redbird FMX simulators that will be based in Kerrville, Chino and Beijing.

Mooney shuttered its production lines in late 2008 as the economic downturn began, saying at that time: “We expect that eventually the general aviation market will return to more normal market conditions. When that happens, it is our intent ... that we will ramp up production to match the market and demand for Mooney aircraft.”

The company continued to service its fleet, which still encompasses more than 7,000 aircraft of the 11,000 produced in Kerrville.

--Kerry Lynch, Kerry.lynch@aviationweek.com