Kestrel to move to Superior Wisconsin

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Kestrel Aircraft chief executive Alan Klapmeier said the inability of Maine officials to come up with the full slate of agreed economic development funds led to the company's decision to build a $100 million production plant with 600 potential jobs for the Kestrel single-engine turboprop elsewhere.

As announced on 16 January, the company will now build two production facilities in Superior, Wisconsin: a composites facility in an industrial park in the city and a separate assembly building five miles away at the Richard Bong airport. Richard Bong is located about 10 miles south of Kestrel's office in Duluth, Minnesota.

Kestrel had planned to build the production plant at the newly decommissioned Brunswick naval air station in Maine, where the company currently has 25 employees undertaking engineering design for the Kestrel and Piper Meridian retrofit kits. Those elements will stay in Brunswick "and grow", possibly to include a completions centre, said Klapmeier. "The primary message is that Wisconsin will get the bulk of the jobs - building the aircraft," he said.

Klapmeier said he hopes to begin constructing the composite facility in Superior this summer and the assembly building a year later. The complex structure of the incentives required that the composites facility be built in town. "The need for money was greater than the [burden] of a five-mile drive," he said.

Klapmeier said certification of the Honeywell TPE331-14GR-powered single-engine turboprop might be three years out, with deliveries starting immediately afterwards. The company is not yet taking orders for the 6- to 8-seat, all-composite low-wing aircraft, although the configuration of the aircraft is "pretty much frozen", he said.

"Some of the pieces did not materialise as expected," Klapmeier told Flightglobal of the Maine funding. "If their part didn't get done - then our part didn't get done. We decided in September, since it didn't look like [their part] would get done - we began responding to people who were asking. Superior was very proactive." Wisconsin has offered a comprehensive package of more than $100 million in tax credits and low-interest loans.

"In the end, the dollars were not different; the uncertainty was different," said Klapmeier. "In Maine, they were trying to put together [financing] parts that would line up; in Wisconsin, they had the authority to get the pieces done."