King Abdullah major influence in establishment of joint venture with Seabird Aviation to produce fixed-wing two-seater

An Australian utility aircraft programme which has struggled for almost 20 years to find funding has been given a new lease of life by the Jordanian government.

Hervey Bay, Queensland-based Seabird Aviation and the state-run King Abdullah Design and Aviation Bureau launched a joint venture at the show to manufacture the Seeker SB7L-360, a fixed-wing two-seat aircraft with a Lycoming O-360 driving a rear-facing two-blade propeller behind a "helicopter-style" cockpit. A crucial factor behind the initiative was the personal interest in the programme of Jordan's ruler and keen aviator King Abdullah, says Seabird chairman Alec Mackenzie.

The company announced its first orders at the show, with four aircraft for the Royal Jordanian Air Academy. Two will be used as trainers supporting surveillance and remote field operations and will be delivered next year, with two more possibly in 2005.

Mackenzie says its design makes the aircraft suited for the law-enforcement sector and other operators requiring low-level observation, such as power-line inspection, because it allows the pilot to operate safely at low altitude at speeds as slow as 65kt (120km/h). Iraq is another potential market as the governing authority there needs commercial surveillance aircraft, says Mackenzie. He says the aircraft, which has a list price of $202,500, is cheaper to buy, operate and maintain than a helicopter.

Mackenzie says the Australian company has spent A$22 million ($16 million) developing the 1,000kg (2,200lb) aircraft, which is certificated to US FAR 23 standards and by Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority and has a range of 880km (475nm). However, Seabird has so far only sold two aircraft in its home market. A pre-production version was on show in Dubai.

The new joint venture, 51% owned by the Australians, plans to invest $10 million from initial sales of the Seeker to design a 2,000kg military version, the Stormer.

The joint venture is opening a factory at the Queen Alia international airport near Amman.

Source: Flight International