MIAMI ENTREPRENEUR TO PURCHASE THE REMAINS OF AIRLIFT INTERNATIONAL BANKRUPTCY CASE LASTED 11 YEARS

MIAMI ENTREPRENEUR TO PURCHASE THE REMAINS OF AIRLIFT INTERNATIONAL BANKRUPTCY CASE LASTED 11 YEARS

George Batchelor, a Miami aviation entrepreneur, agreed to buy Airlift International in bankruptcy court on Tuesday, the start of the final chapter in the longest bankruptcy case in South Florida.

For nearly 11 years, the once-prestigious Airlift has operated under court supervision, gradually dwindling to a company with just eight employees, six planes and one major contract, hauling prisoners for the state of New York. Over the years, a handful of reorganization plans have fallen apart.Keeping the company alive was a balancing act that moved close to an end Tuesday, when Mr. Batchelor's R.T. Leasing Inc. agreed in a bankruptcy court hearing to pay $3.9 million for Airlift and to rebuild it.

"We're not going to take the company apart, we're going to build it back up to its former greatness," Mr. Batchelor said, through a spokeswoman.

Al Wells, a projects director for Mr. Batchelor's International Air Leasing, said Airlift employment could rise from the current level of eight employees to 100 or more in the year following the closing of the deal June 1. He said Mr. Batchelor's first intent is to replace Airlift's fleet of five small planes and one McDonnell Douglas DC-8 with newer, larger planes, which would quickly lead to increased employment.

Bill Seidle, a Miami automobile dealer who has spent the past 10 years as Airlift trustee, was exuberant about the Batchelor purchase.

"It's not the money so much as it is that Airlift will be an ongoing entity and will hire people in our community," he said.

Mr. Seidle recalled that when he started as trustee, Airlift had no planes, no operating certificate and no money.

Neither Mr. Seidle nor most of the attorneys involved in the Airlift case have collected fees for the past eight years.

"Rather than take fees, we bought airplanes," Mr. Seidle said.

There will be many claims on the $3.9 million Mr. Batchelor put up to buy the operation. In a recent report, Mr. Seidle estimated potential fees at $1.8 million and potential debt accumulated since the bankruptcy filing at $2.6 million.

In addition, unsecured creditors claimed $22.5 million in debt when Airlift filed for bankruptcy protection in June 1981.

Mr. Wells, who spent 15 years with Airlift before leaving in 1979, said the company once had 3,000 employees. It provided scheduled cargo service and passenger charter flights, thriving on military business during the Vietnam War.