Two big strings attached to federal bankruptcy judge's decision Friday to let a Chinese aviation company buy the bankrupt assets of Epic Air for $4.3 million lift the hopes that plane production could resume at Epic's Bend Airport factory, shut late last summer.
Judge Randall Dunn gave China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co. Ltd. Until 11:59 p.m. next Thursday to reach a licensing agreement with LT Builders, a group of seven Epic customers who intend to restart and operate the kit plane company in Bend.
The ruling came a week after the Chinese firm offered the prevailing cash bid of $4.3 million for Epic's remains.
And Dunn added a caveat to make a deal happen: If the two parties fail to reach agreement by next Thursday night, the third bidder, Kansas-based Harlow Aerostructures, gets to buy Epic's assets - and that, too, would be fine with Bend officials, as that firm also has declared its intent to build planes in Bend.
After Dunn's ruling, Harlow's chief executive, Phil Friedman, told The Oregonian he won't wait for that agreement to happen - that he wants to elbow out the Chinese with a better deal for LT.
However all that maneuvering plays out, it now appears more likely than before that plane production will resume in Bend, which would be great news for the region's economy and hundreds of former employees.
"It makes it very likely that something will happen with resumption of production, though there's not a guarantee," said Gary Firestone, assistant to Bend's city attorney.
City Councilor Tom Greene agreed that the news sounds positive, noting that the leaders of the LT Builders said they have $4.9 million in Bank of the Cascades to restart operations.
A deal also likely would need to be reached with the shuttered plant's landlords, ER1, but Greene, who attended Tuesday's five-hour hearing with Firestone, said the LT Builders told the judge they also already have identified 35,000 square feet as a backup factory location for the kit-plane maker.
Greene said the builders already have been in discussion with some ex-employees and have "a fairly decent labor pool to select from." He said a Worksource Oregon report shows more than 300 people in the area trained with laminates and composites construction, either still on the jobless rolls or "under-employed."