Florida Today
October 7, 2008
Wayne T. Price



Plane builder seeks incentives
Comp Air says it could create 2,000 jobs by 2012 with Melbourne plant

Melbourne International Airport is competing against sites in New Mexico and Virginia to land an aviation company that says it could create up to 2,000 jobs building a new plane by 2012.

Speaking at the National Business Aviation Association annual meeting and convention in Orlando, where they formally unveiled their plans, representatives from Comp Air Aviation, an affiliate of Merritt Island-based Comp Air Inc., said Melbourne is their preferred site, but that a final decision will likely come down to who offers the best package of incentives.

"We have to look at incentives and who is going to help us," said Bill Fedorko, chief operating officer of Comp Air.

Richard Ennis, executive director of Melbourne International, said the airport would work with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, as well as Melbourne and Brevard County officials, to push for economic incentives.

The last major aviation business to locate at Melbourne International, a subsidiary of Brazilian jetmaker Embraer S.A. received more than $12 million in local, county and state economic incentives earlier this year for a showroom and final assembly operation that will employ at least 200.

Fedorko and Ronald Lueck, Comp Air's chief executive officer and president, on Monday announced details of production plans for the Comp Air 12, which would need to get certification by the Federal Aviation Administration before it could be sold domestically on a mass scale.

Initial production would create about 50 jobs.

A California group called Mercmed LLC is fronting Comp Air the $150 million it estimates it will cost to get the Comp Air 12 certified. Fedorko said that funding came through two years ago.

"We're going to get it and they're still saying we're going to get it," Fedorko said.

"If we had started this a month ago, forget it."

Fedorko brushed aside questions that a long-lasting credit crunch could dissuade some customers from the U.S. and overseas from purchasing the aircraft, which starts at nearly
$3 million.

That could propose a problem "if this climate keeps up," Fedorko said. "I don't foresee that happening."

Lueck, who has been manufacturing kit aircraft since the 1980s, said Comp Air signed a memorandum of agreement with an air taxi company he would not identify to purchase 150 aircraft. That increased production plans, he said, from the original run of 50 planes.

"That changes everything," Lueck said.

Comp Air, which also has $2.4 million in deposits for the Comp Air 12, is working with Auburn University's aeronautical engineering department as part of its design and FAA certification process.

If Comp Air ultimately selects Melbourne International, the company would initially lease a 14,000-square-foot hangar and 9,500 square feet of office space being vacated by F.I.T. Aviation. The latter is moving into newer facilities at the airport.

Later, Comp Air would build a larger facility off Aviation Drive.

The six- to 10-seat airplane uses a single Honeywell turbine engine and a 5-blade McCauley propeller. A prototype took flight earlier this year.

Fedorko said target markets for the plane are the U.S., Russia, China and India.

Contact Price at (321) 242-3658 or wprice@floridatoday.com


Join our Email List: