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FAA says Sino Swearingen delays normal

February 11, 1999

Sino SwearingenBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A security guard, a part-time building manager and a couple of house plants remain the chief occupants of Sino Swearingen's new jet manufacturing plant in Berkeley County.

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More than a year past the original projected startup date for production, November 1997, Sino Swearingen is still waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve design changes for the company's new SJ30-2 corporate jet, said Mike S. Potts, Sino Swearingen's director of corporate communications.

With production facilities in Spain currently assembling the wings and fuselage for test flights in San Antonio, Potts said FAA testing of the new prototype will not happen until later this year.

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The company, however, plans to hire at least 20 people this year and expects to begin some nonproduction work at the Berkeley County plant before the end of 1999, said Potts.

The jets will take about 35 days to assemble and Sino Swearingen plans to begin delivery on jet orders by November 2000, he said.

The Berkeley County facility could employ some 300 people within two years of production, he said.

Potts said he would not discuss specifics on hiring and production timelines until next Friday when he flies in from Sino Swearingen's corporate headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce's breakfast meeting at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

Sino Swearingen has already completed construction on a 62,500 square-foot production facility next to the runway at the Eastern Regional Airport, but the plant remains dormant.

Manufacturing plans were put on hold in mid-1997 when Sino Swearingen decided to boost the weight limit of the SJ30-2 from 12,500 lbs. to 13,200 lbs., said Potts.

The FAA approved the necessary steps for the weight change in March 1998 when Sino Swearingen began reconfiguring and redesigning the plane to meet the new payload.

The company is now in the process of building three prototype jets that will be subjected to a 1,200-hour flight test plan that should take about a year, Potts said.

Sino Swearingen is about halfway through the federal certification process it began in August 1996 and should receive final approval in late 2000, said FAA spokeswoman Tanya Wagner at the FAA's Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, Ga.

The plane will be authorized to take test flights when the prototypes pass inspection, and Wagner said there has not been anything out of the ordinary with Sino Swearingen's certification process.

The delays experienced by Sino Swearingen are not uncommon in an industry in which manufacturers must continually refine their products to meet consumer needs, said Michael Mecham, the San Francisco, Calif.-based Asia-Pacific bureau chief for Aviation Week magazine in New York.

"It isn't just two engines and two wings," Mecham said. "Since it's all big money, you want to get it right the first time."

The production delays have not hurt interest in the new seven-passenger plane, Potts said. Sino Swearingen has already accepted 140 orders for the $4.2 million corporate jets.

Each jet order requires a nonrefundable $75,000 deposit, which is put in an escrow account until Sino Swearingen receives its FAA certification, he said.

About 25 percent of the orders are international with the rest of the jet requests coming from domestic clients.

The SJ30-2 jet will be the sole product for Sino Swearingen, a company that has been hailed by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., as the first joint aerospace industry venture between the U.S. and Taiwan.




related story: Delays could ground Sino-Swearingen jet

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