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Sino Swearingen gets FAA certification for plane

October 28, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Commercial production of a jet partially built in Martinsburg can now begin since Sino Swearingen received type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration Thursday for its SJ30-2 plane.

The main shell of the seven-person, $5.5 million jet is built in a plant outside of Martinsburg before being shipped to San Antonio for full assembly.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who worked to bring Sino Swearingen to West Virginia, congratulated the company on obtaining certification.

"To say that this day is monumental would be an enormous understatement," Rockefeller said, according to a press release from his office. "When I first began meeting with the inventors in the early 1990s, a lot of people said that this day would never happen. But a lot of us involved from the outset had confidence in this project, and we persisted in moving it forward. We had an unblinking vision, and we were prepared to do a whole lot of plain old hard work. It's a great feeling of pride and achievement."

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The SJ30-2 is the first newly designed twinjet plane manufactured by a new company to be certified in 45 years, Rockefeller said.

A message left at Sino Swearingen Thursday afternoon was not returned. A secretary said that David Bartles, the recent vice president of operations, no longer was an employee at the plant.

"Things are going to be booming now because we have to deliver the aircraft. The FAA certification is basically a delivery license," said Gene Comfort, senior vice president for U.S. and international sales and marketing.

Sales of the aircraft, which has a price tag of about $4.9 million, "are tremendous" and the Martinsburg plant will be expanded as production is ramped up to meet demand, he said.

Demand for the plane is high because it is faster and has a longer range than other light jets, Comfort said.

The SJ30-2 has a cabin pressure of 12 psi, meaning it maintains sea-level pressure at 41,000 feet - the highest ever in the industry; can travel 2,500 nautical miles without refueling; and travels at Mach .83, or 560 mph.

In August, a Sino Swearingen official said that 188 buyers have ordered one of the $5.5 million jets, creating more than $1 billion in backlog.

Around 135 people now work at the 87,500-square-foot plant, which opened on Novak Drive in 1997. It sat all but empty until 2002, when employees began assembling sheet metal and outer-layer "skins" into the shell of the jet.

The number of employees is expected to grow to 300 by the end of 2007, officials have said.

"Today's announcement also represents an enormous victory for the Eastern Panhandle - it means the Martinsburg plant will be ramping up to 300-400 jobs in the next 3-4 years, and it solidifies West Virginia's position on the aviation manufacturing map. The industry is sitting up and taking notice of us today - you can be sure of that," Rockefeller said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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