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Congress asked to OK $43 million for more multienforcement aircraft

If approved, 'two new ones' would be produced at Hagerstown Sierra Nevada plant

May 23, 2012|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU | arnoldp@herald-mail.com
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation's hangar at Hagerstown Regional Airport is shown in this Herald-Mail file photo.
Herald-Mail file photo

A top official at the Sierra Nevada Corp. plant near Hagerstown said Wednesday that federal funding is being sought to enable the company to continue producing special surveillance planes for U.S. Customs and Border Protection through 2013.

Jack Kimberly, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada Integrated Missions System, said Congress is being asked to approve $43 million to buy two more multienforcement aircraft from the company.

Sierra Nevada won a federal Department of Homeland Security  contract in 2009 to produce five of the surveillance aircraft for customs and border patrol use. Work on the initial five is to be completed this year by the end of December, Kimberly said.

If Congress approves the $43 million, “the two new ones would be” produced at the Hagerstown plant during 2013, he said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said in a news release Tuesday that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the new funding. She said a vote in the Senate hasn’t been scheduled yet.

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Over time, the government could buy up to 30 of the modified planes, Kimberly said. Sierra Nevada is the prime contractor for the work, he said.

The planes are new Beechcraft 350 ERs, which are modified at the Hagerstown-area plant for the special surveillance work, he said. An ER — or extended range — aircraft can stay in the air for up to seven hours and travel up to 2,000 miles, he said.

Kimberly said the work is “a major part of our production” at the Hagerstown-area plant, which has about 400 employees. He said almost 50  employees are currently working on those aircraft.

“We do work for other customers, including theU.S. Army. But this is like an anchor contract,” he said. “We’ve got (other) contracts, ranging from four months through 12 months.”

Sierra Nevada, which operates out of five hangars at Hagerstown Regional Airport north of town, has been there for about 10 years. It has upgraded cockpits, and installed radios and other special equipment to modify airplanes for such federal agencies as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Defense.

But such contracts are becoming more scarce as America’s military involvement overseas winds down, Kimberly said.

“Right now, with the Defense Department’s budgets coming down, leaving out of Afghanistan, they’re few and far between,” he said.

Defense contractors are “all in the same boat. We’re all hunting for that next big contract.”

The Hagerstown-area plant is busy and will continue operating regardless of whether Congress approves the $43 million, Kimberly said.

“We’ve got good customers. I’ve got leads for multiple years,” he said.

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