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Tiger Aircraft begins construction of 3 planes

March 28, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW

Tiger Aircraft begins construction of 3 planes



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - While two aircraft companies struggle to get off the ground with their plans to build planes at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, Tiger Aircraft Co. has started construction on its planes.

"We've got three (planes) in work right now and we're hiring about three people a week," said John Witcher, president of Tiger Aircraft. The planes are single-prop planes priced at $219,500 and designed for private individuals to fly.

The assembly plant is at the John D. Rockefeller IV Science and Technology Center at the airport. The company located in Berkeley County because of Rockefeller, who has ties in Asia, officials have said. Taiwanese money has been invested in the plant, Witcher said.

Assembly started on the first plane in November, but was delayed because parts delivery was delayed, Witcher said. That problem has been overcome and three fuselages have arrived on site. Two more are on the way, he said.

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"We expect to build between 100-300 planes annually, depending on the market," Witcher said. The company has about 45-50 employees and keeps hiring as the assembly process enlarges.

The first planes off the assembly lines will take several weeks to build as workers learn the process and work the bugs out of the system.

"After that, we expect an assembly cycle of about three to five weeks per plane," he said.

At the official ceremony marking the start of assembly last November, Rockefeller estimated that more than 200 people could be employed at the plant.

"Those were Sen. Rockefeller's numbers and we wouldn't want to disagree with the senator," Witcher said. He could not precisely say how many employees might be hired eventually.

"We're looking at whether we can produce more of the parts that go into the aircraft, which would add significantly to the number of employees," he said.

Witcher said it is difficult for any aircraft manufacturer to get the financing, the location, design and other elements together to build planes.

Alliance Aircraft of Portsmouth, N.H., said recently it wants to build regional jet aircraft at the airport. But the company has experienced trouble trying to get off the ground in New Hampshire. Sino-Swearingen Co. also is located at the airport and plans to build business jets. Sino-Swearingen just laid off 100 employees at its San Antonio, Texas, plant and recently put on hold plans to hire 300 people in Martinsburg.

"It is difficult" to get a plant up and running to build planes, Witcher said. "It is not an easy process."

Rockefeller could not be reached for comment about Tiger's plans.

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