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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brownback officially announces Bombardier Learjet expansion

By Molly McMillin
The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Sam Brownback hailed Bombardier Learjet’s expansion as good for the company, the community and the state.

The expansion, officially announced this morning at the company’s west Wichita facility, will bring work and jobs to Kansas, Brownback said. That’s welcome news to a city still stinging from last week’s announcement that Boeing will close and leave.

Bombardier Learjet is planning a second expansion of its facilities to take on work of its newest business jet, the Learjet 85. Its expansion plans go beyond that, however.

The company is adding flight test capabilities and a Center of Excellence of Engineering and Information Technology — moves that will bring additional Bombardier work to Kansas, company officials say.

The expansion is being supported by state incentives worth $16 million, Brownback said. That will be added to the $600 million investment Bombardier says it is making to develop the Learjet 85 midsize jet and expand the Wichita facility. City and county officials have approved their portion of the plan: $1 million each.

“Wichita is the best place in the world to build airplanes,” Brownback said, citing the city’s infrastructure, trained work force and suppliers.

“Those are all the components to make this an aviation cluster,” he said.

In the short term, the company is adding three buildings — a paint facility, a preflight facility and new delivery center – in a $52.7 million project that will mean 450 jobs at the facility.

In an earlier project, the company vacated and expanded a production hangar to take on final assembly work on the Learjet 85, a composite, eight-passenger, intercontinental plane.

“Kansas is a good place to do business,” said Steve Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft. He said the company is committed to Wichita.

“It’s a really great place for us,” Ridolfi said. “This has been a win-win story.

“We want to build lots of airplanes here. Bombardier as a company is very, very happy here.”

The news of Boeing’s closing will provide an unexpected benefit to the Learjet site, Ridolfi said. Bombardier will need engineers and skilled workers to fill jobs.

The site employs 2,800 people. The company plans to add about 100 jobs in the near future. The remaining jobs to be added will occur over the next 18 months, said Ralph Acs, head of the Learjet plant.

The company introduced the Learjet 85 in October 2007. Wichita will perform the final assembly, install the interiors, paint the all-composite jets, flight-test them and then deliver them. The plane’s first delivery is scheduled for 2013.

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