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Aerospace, Aviation Outfits Onboard Lawyers as Sector Rebounds

June 29, 2021, 10:01 AM

Howmet Aerospace Inc. is one of several companies in the aerospace and aviation industry to appoint a new top in-house lawyer as global air transportation demand gradually rises back towards pre-pandemic levels.

Lola Lin, a senior vice president and general counsel at gas supplier Airgas Inc., has joined Howmet as an executive vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary. Lin will lead the legal, ethics, and compliance functions for Pittsburgh-based Howmet, which makes components used in jet engines and truck wheels.

Lin, in a Monday statement, said she hopes to help Howmet “transform the industries it services to enable a more sustainable future.”

She spent the past five years at Radnor, Pa.-based Airgas, while also serving as a deputy general counsel at Air Liquide SA, a French company that acquired Airgas in 2016. That $10 billion deal led to a nearly $1 billion payday for former in-house attorney Peter McCausland, who founded Airgas in 1982.

Howmet reportedly began recalling and hiring hundreds of workers in May to ramp up production in manufacturing facilities that had furloughed hundreds of those same workers last year amid an abrupt decline in the commercial aerospace business due to the spread of Covid-19.

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., another aircraft parts maker that laid off thousands of workers last year, named a new law department leader in March after its former legal chief left in January. Spirit and Howmet both make parts for the Boeing Co., which saw its own general counsel depart several weeks ago.

At Howmet, Lin takes over a team previously led by Katherine Ramundo, a former legal chief for the company and its predecessor, Arconic, who stepped down earlier this year to become the top lawyer for auto parts giant Aptiv PLC.

Howmet was Alcoa Inc.’s metal processing unit until it separated in 2016 from the industrial giant to form Arconic Inc. The latter adopted the Howmet name last year in another corporate restructuring. The company has been embroiled in litigation over aluminum cladding it made that ignited in London’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire, which killed more than 70 people in 2017.

Supersonic Travel

Velontra LLC, a hypersonic technology startup, also said in a statement Monday that Mark Longenecker Jr. had joined its ranks as a founding member and chief legal officer as the Cincinnati-based company seeks to ensure that “America’s military is not left behind by Chinese and Russian technology advances.”

Longenecker, a former partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, Frost Brown Todd, and what is now Dentons Bingham Greenebaum, joins a Velontra team with aerospace experience in hypersonic platforms for both military and commercial uses. Longenecker, a startup and transactional expert, joins a Velontra executive team that includes two rocket scientists, the company said.

Laura Kroeger, a Velontra spokeswoman, told Bloomberg Law via email that Longenecker will continue to maintain his own private legal practice in Cincinnati. Longenecker has operated the Longenecker Law Firm since leaving Porter Wright in 2013. Public records show that his eponymous firm has received two loans totaling $75,000 under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Dozens of U.S. law firms have received funds under that program, which was designed to help American businesses weather the pandemic’s financial fallout.

Elsewhere on the federal regulatory front, January also saw the Federal Aviation Administration finalize new regulations designed to streamline the development of supersonic flight, where Velontra is one of several startup companies seeking to capitalize on technological advancements.

Boom Technology Inc., an Englewood, Colo.-based supersonic flight startup founded in 2014 by its current CEO Blake Scholl, announced June 3 a $3 billion deal to sell 15 of its Overture jets to United Airlines Holdings Inc.

“We believe the fastest flights should also be the most sustainable,” wrote Boom’s vice president of legal and policy Rachel Devine in a LinkedIn post earlier this month about the deal with United, which has the option to buy 35 more jets from Boom at $200 million apiece.

Devine, a former senior counsel for the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittee on aviation, joined Boom as head of U.S. policy in 2019 before being promoted last year. She didn’t respond to a request for comment about the size of her in-house legal and policy team at Boom, which reached unicorn status in December after closing a $50 million fundraising round.

Public records show that Devine was the sole in-house lobbyist for Boom during the first quarter of this year when it lobbied the House and FAA on matters related to sustainability, emissions, and noise, as well as its client services and products. Boom hired Laurie Sussman, another ex-House aviation legal staffer who most recently worked at Collins Aerospace, as an associate general counsel for finance in April.

More Aviation Additions

As commercial air travel prepares for a potentially busy summer season with the pandemic ebbing in certain countries, like the U.S., some airlines and aviation companies are reshuffling their in-house legal ranks.

Breeze Aviation Group Inc., a Cottonwood Heights, Utah-based startup airline backed by JetBlue Airways Corp. founder David Neeleman that went live last month, has hired veteran aviation industry lawyer John Varley as its general counsel and chief people officer. Varley, who didn’t respond to a request for comment about his new role, most recently served as the top lawyer for ExpressJet Airlines Inc., a regional carrier that shut down operations last year during the pandemic.

Erickson Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based aerospace manufacturing and aviation service provider, installed David Merryman as its director of legal in May ahead of the departure of its general counsel and senior vice president of people Melissa Berube. She was announced Monday as the new top lawyer for Eos Energy Enterprises Inc., a zinc battery maker that went public last year.

Merryman, a former associate at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, joined Erickson as a legal counsel earlier this year. Neither he nor Berube responded to requests for comment about the legal group at Erickson, which specializes in making helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for heavy-lift operations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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