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Manufacturer plans to deliver six jets

March 31, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- An Emivest Aerospace Corp. executive said Tuesday that the San Antonio-based company intends to deliver as many as six SJ30 business jets this year and also is interested in developing a larger version of the aircraft that is partially manufactured in Berkeley County.

"We got two (SJ30s) in service and that would give us eight," said Joseph Gullion, chief operating officer for Emivest.

Formerly known as Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corp., the aircraft manufacturer changed its name last year after Emirates Investment & Development PSC (Emivest) purchased an 80 percent stake and replaced the Taiwanese government as the majority owner. Emivest is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Since investing, Emivest has been eyeing changes to make production more efficient, including the possibility of moving manufacturing of the plane's fuselage to San Antonio and focusing Martinsburg's operations on wing production. Development of a larger version of the plane would bolster the company's profile as well, Gullion said.

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"Really, you don't want to be a one-trick pony," Gullion said.

No decisions have been made, but Gullion said the goal is to grow operations in Martinsburg and San Antonio, "so we can be cost-competitive in the market."

The investment by Emivest last year retooled what had been a financially ailing U.S.-Taiwan joint venture. Sino Swearingen was born more than 10 years ago from a two-year partnership between Swearingen Aircraft Corp. in San Antonio and Sino Aerospace Investment Corp. of Taiwan.

In 2007, Sino-Swearingen said it laid off dozens of employees amid a management shake-up and a search for new investment.

Emivest's proposed investment received approval from the U.S. Treasury's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in May 2008.

Gullion said Emivest Aerospace currently employs about 300 employees, with about 90 at the manufacturing center at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, where fuselages, wings and tail sections are made.

In November 2007, Sino Swearingen announced the SJ30 jet made a record-breaking 16-hour, 24-minute flight from San Antonio to Dubai, where it made its Middle East debut at the Dubai Air Show.

Gullion on Tuesday gave no indication that the company was financially struggling or that it intended to transfer manufacturing operations as other published reports have suggested. Emivest is currently monitoring economic conditions and trying to "pace" its growth in anticipation of the market's return, Gullion said.

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