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TLM says plant is near completion

July 21, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new Taiwanese airplane production facility that is nine months behind schedule should be finished in early September, according to TLM Aerospace Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bob Crowley.

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TLM had planned to begin making planes at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport last April, but the project was set back by facility design changes and construction problems, Crowley said.

The $30 million plant at the John D. Rockefeller IV Science and Technology Center at the Martinsburg airport will produce four-seat, single-engine Tiger airplanes.

The company plans to move a startup team into the plant once construction is completed and expects to hire four or five local people for office and sales positions in October or November, Crowley said from his office in Greenville, Miss.

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An additional 30 to 40 local workers will be hired in March or April of next year to assemble the planes, he said.

Pay rates for the new jobs have not been determined, Crowley said.

The project ran into delays when the company decided to double the size of the paint hangar and found out some of the heating and wiring needed to be reworked, Crowley said.

"We use a bake painting process that uses 350-degree temperatures. West Virginia's winters can get pretty cold and those 20-degree days can be a lot to overcome compared with 50 or 60-degree temperatures," Crowley said.

Construction crews were also hampered by frozen ground and wet conditions at the airport last winter, he said.

The delays have added "substantial costs" for TLM's startup plan, but the company is still confident it will sell 65 of the $215,000 Tigers in the first production year, Crowley said.

No pre-orders have been taken for the planes because TLM could not promise a firm delivery date, he said.

It will take 11 months to build the first airplanes once the startup team is in place, Crowley said.

The company has projected 105 plane sales in the second year of production and has plans to later begin building a less-powerful training plane, he said.

TLM was created in 1997 when Taiwan's Tong Lung Metal Industry, the world's largest producer of door hardware and lock sets, bought American General Aircraft.

The TLM plant is one of two aircraft companies that plan to begin production at the Martinsburg airport.

Sino Swearingen, the first joint aerospace endeavor between the U.S. and Taiwan, has already announced plans to begin full production of its corporate jet in Berkeley County by the end of next year.

The project was delayed by Sino Swearingen's decision to redesign the plane, but company officials have said they already have at least $550 million in back-orders.

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