Swearingen progresses on business jet after another round of manufacturing reviews

Sino Swearingen Aircraft (SSAC) has begun fabricating the first production SJ30-2 light business jet at its Martinsburg, West Virginia, plant after again changing its plans for manufacture of the fuselage and wing. The Martinsburg plant will now build the entire airframe.

After cancelling its contract with risk-sharing Spanish partner Gamesa last year because of alleged delays in delivery of fuselages and wings, SSAC signed an agreement to transfer production to Aerostructures in Nashville, Tennessee.

But the company was able to buy the tooling and in-process parts from Gamesa, despite a lawsuit between the two, and decided to manufacture the fuselage and wing itself. SSAC says it will take slightly longer to spool up for production in-house, but will require less investment in the long term and improve cost control.

Tooling was transferred from Gamesa to SSAC's San Antonio, Texas, headquarters for inspection and repair and is being relocated to Martinsburg as the work is completed. In-process components were shipped directly from Spain to Martinsburg, where the task of reconciling the parts with the paperwork is under way. The first US-produced fuselage and wing shipset, for aircraft number five, is to be completed in the fourth quarter, with two more sets to be completed by year-end and another 16 next year.

While the original plan called for final assembly at Martinsburg, fabrication of the empennage was later transferred to the West Virginia plant from a vendor in Florida. Relocation of fuselage and wing work has resulted in an accelerated build-up of the workforce, to 150 by the end of this year and 500 by the end of 2006, when Martinsburg is to produce two shipsets a week. The expansion of manufacturing will fill the factory, and as a result final assembly and completion of the SJ30 will be moved to facilities in San Antonio.

SSAC says the aircraft is set for US certification by the end of this year, but customer deliveries are not planned to begin until the third quarter of next year. A second flight test aircraft is expected to join the certification programme by May, and the third a couple of months later. Conscious of its long history of delays, the company says certification by year-end is "ambitious, but doable". Funding is coming from Taiwanese backers.

SSAC has held on to orders for more than 150 aircraft, secured by $75,000 non-refundable deposits. Seven to nine aircraft are expected to be delivered next year, with production planned to reach one a week by the start of 2005 and two a week by the end of 2006.

Source: Flight International