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Delays could ground Sino-Swearingen jet

February 11, 1999

Sino JetBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The corporate jet market is at an all-time high right now, but an industry expert warns that continued delays with Sino Swearingen's new plane could mean major problems for the company.

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The Taiwanese-backed Sino Swearingen broke ground for a Berkeley County production facility almost three years ago but has yet to start production on its new SJ30-2 corporate business jet.

The company initially planned to begin making the jets in March 1998 but has experienced several delays related to design changes and federal approval on the new airplane.

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"After so many false starts, other companies are introducing similar planes. Sino Swearingen has an excellent product but they are losing a battle with time," said Ed Phillips, the Dallas, Texas-based Southwest U.S. bureau chief and business aviation editor for Aviation Week magazine.

Sino Swearingen's jet could have a hard time competing with a similar corporate jet nearing production in Wichita, Kan., said Phillips.

The Premier One by Raytheon Aircraft is expected to beat the SJ30-2 to federal certification and likely will be on the market before Swearingen's plane, he said.

"That would mean they would lose sales. (Sino Swearingen) is in a bind. They need to push ahead with this," said Phillips. "If this drags on another two or three years I don't think people will wait."

Potential plane buyers would have no problem forfeiting their $75,000 deposits on the SJ30-2 and deciding to buy a different plane, he said.

A Sino Swearingen spokesman said the company believes it will hold onto its market niche.

"We have competition but I feel confident there is enough market for all of us," said Mike S. Potts, Sino Swearingen's director of corporate communications.

A strong U.S. economy has made corporate jets attractive to companies who see private planes as a way to save valuable business time and avoid delays caused by congested airports and recent labor troubles at commercial air carriers, said Peter Aseritis, an aerospace analyst for the First Boston bank and brokerage in New York City.

There are about 1,200 turbine-powered business aircraft in the U.S. and another 6,000 in other countries, said Cassandra Bosco, spokeswoman for the National Business Aviation Association in Washington, D.C.

The popularity of business jets has been boosted over the past five years by a new concept that allows companies and private individuals to buy shares of a corporate jet, said Aseritis.

For one-sixth the price of a jet the buy-in plan guarantees 60 flight days a year, he said.

The true test for the corporate jet market will come when the U.S. economy takes a downturn and businesses begin trimming expenses from budgets, said Aseritis.

"We could see a lot of these jet manufacturers get whacked if that happens," he said.




related story: FAA says Sino Swearingen delays normal

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