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Swearingen looks forward to opening plant

July 06, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. Sino Swearingen Aircraft Co. hasn't built a single airplane yet in Martinsburg but business is already rolling.

Company officials said they have already received orders for the company's new SJ30-2 business jet that will be built at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport just south of Martinsburg.

Chester Schickley, vice-president of marketing and sales for Sino Swearingen, said the company has reached about three-quarters of its goal of selling 100 of the jets by the end of the year.

Two weeks ago, in France at the Paris Air Show, Sino Swearingen took orders for 16 jets, said Schickley.

He said Sino Swearingen's new product was a big hit at the air show, as company officials proudly showed pictures of their new plant under construction in Berkeley County.

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"Martinsburg is going to be a busy place for us. It's kind of like a diamond in the rough, and we're looking forward to it," he said.

Meanwhile, the company's assembly plant at the airport is under roof and the company is expected to move into the building about the first of November, said Richard Wachtel, chairman of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority.

The plant will consist of a 62,000-square-foot assembly facility consisting of seven airplane positions and 20 work stations, and a 21,000 square-foot administration building, said Wachtel.

Between 50 and 100 production workers are expected to begin building the SJ30-2 next March.

The 46-foot jet is described as having a breakthrough design that will give customers a combination of greater range, speed and higher altitude capability at a lower price.

The seven-person plane, designed to operate from short runways, costs $3.5 million.

The first model was the SJ30. Sino Swearingen later made such modifications as a different windshield configuration and different avionics, and changed the name to the SJ30-2, according to William E. Walkup, manager of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

The plane is undergoing a detailed testing program to evaluate its cabin pressure, landing gear, instrumentation and other features, officials said. The work, being completed at the company's headquarters at the San Antonio International Airport in Texas, is required by the Federal Aviation Administration before production can begin, said Walkup.

The Sino Swearingen plant is just one part of a major initiative to further develop the Berkeley County airport and hopefully turn it into a major employer, airport officials said.

The plant is the first tenant in the John D. Rockefeller IV Science and Technology Center, a 250-acre industrial park officials hope to fill with aircraft-related businesses.

Funded with $4 million from the federal Economic Development Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the West Virginia Division of Highways, the project involved installing fiber optic and telephone lines in the park, and other utilities such as sewer, water and natural gas, Wachtel said.

A key component in the improvements is a $23 million radar surveillance system being built at the airport.

Currently, Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., which controls the air space over Martinsburg, cannot see the local airport with its radar because South Mountain blocks its signal, Wachtel said.

As a result, Dulles allows only one airplane at a time into the local air space during bad weather, he said.

The radar, which will be mounted on top of a 108-foot tower with a rotating dish on top, will allow air controllers to view the local airport, enabling them to expand use of the air space, officials said.

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