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Swearingen plane flies in for a visit

April 26, 1999

Sino Swearingen jetBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sino Swearingen flew the prototype for its new plane into Berkeley County on Monday, bringing with it promises the company would soon begin hiring local workers.

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The announcement that by October the company will hire up to eight workers to assemble tail sections for the SJ30-2 drew applause from the estimated 250 people who gathered at Sino Swearingen's production hangar to get their first glimpse of the corporate jet.

Full production of the plane is expected to begin in Berkeley County by the end of next year.

Showing off the prototype jet that recently passed initial federal certification tests, pilots flew over the crowd twice before bringing the plane in for a closer look outside the hangar.

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Despite production delays created by Sino Swearingen's decision to redesign the plane, company President Jack Braly said he is confident of a successful future for the SJ30-2.

The company already has a $550 million backlog with 140 pre-orders for the plane, he said.

"The market obviously believes we've got a winner," said Braly.

Braly said the SJ30-2 should be marketable for the next 30 years and said the company's current backlog of orders guarantees production in Martinsburg through the year 2003.

Investors have put more than $100 million into the project and are expected to invest another $100 million, said Braly.

The project's importance as the first joint aerospace endeavor between the U.S. and Taiwan has made it worth the wait, said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Rockefeller, who has been working to bring the project to West Virginia since 1991, said the decision to redesign the plane has created short-term delays but will make the plane more viable in the long run.

"The delays have been frustrating, but it has been a positive frustration," said Rockefeller. "What matters is the end result."

News that Sino Swearingen will begin hiring local workers had Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham "tickled to death."

"It's been worth waiting for," said Dunham. "This is going to be a big thing for the county."

Sino Swearingen will hire two local workers by August to fly down to Texas to help build the company's first two tail sections.

Six additional workers will be hired by October, when the company plans to move its tail-making operation to Martinsburg.

Salaries for those jobs will range from $14 to $16 an hour for experienced workers and from $10 to $12 hourly for entry-level workers.

The Berkeley County plant should have upwards of 100 employees by the end of next year with an estimated 300 workers in place by the end of 2001, said Rockefeller.

The company plans to produce 100 planes a year when it reaches full manufacturing capability, said Braly.

Eventually, Sino Swearingen could employ between 800 and 1,000 workers in the county, but Braly said those estimates depend on the success of the SJ30-2 and the company's ability to expand its product line.

With work under way to build five new SJ30-2 planes for further FAA testing in San Antonio, the prototype displayed at yesterday's luncheon will stay in Berkeley County.

"It's tremendously exciting to have the plane here," said Martinsburg businessman CEM Martin. "This is a landmark event that defines the kind of high-tech manufacturing we can bring to the Eastern Panhandle."

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