Santa Maria Airport May Become Dassault Falcon West Service Center

Saturday, February 9, 2008
French company considering airport as hub
By Malia Spencer
The Santa Maria (CA) Times

Efforts to bring a French aircraft manufacturer to the Santa Maria Public Airport are once again kicking into high gear. Santa Maria is one of two airport’s being considered by Dassault Falcon Jet Corp. for the site of a West Coast service center, said Jim Kunkle, who has been working with airport, city and county officials to court the company. Kunkle and others have been trying to bring Dassault to the Central Coast since about 2002. Talks went quickly at first, but then slowed when the company made opening a West Coast center a lower priority.

However, at the end of 2007, officials with Dassault contacted Santa Maria officials to say they were once again focusing on their West Coast plans.

Economic-development, airport and city officials are finishing a final proposal for Dassault, and Kunkle said he plans to present it to company leaders later this month.

“I really believe with the efforts of not only the Economic Development Commission but the airport and Jim (Kunkle), it looks like it’s going to be a really nice proposal,” said Etta Waterfield, with the EDC. “All I have are positive thoughts to what the proposal will produce.”

Dassault has an 827,000-square-foot completion center in Little Rock, Ark., and a smaller center in Wilmington, Del. The company’s jets are manufactured in Bordeau-Merignac, France, and then aircraft destined for owners in the Western Hemisphere and Pacific Rim are finished in the United States.

A West Coast service center would be used as a maintenance facility.

“There is a move over the last 10 to 15 years that the large corporate aircraft be maintained by service centers and repair facilities owned by the manufacturer,” Kunkle said.

Kunkle owns Central Coast Jet Center, one of the fixed-based operations at the airport, which provides fuel and amenities for private aircraft and their passengers.

Many decisions at the airport, such as adding a customs facility, activating the foreign-trade-zone designation and lengthening the runway, have all been made in an effort to make Santa Maria more attractive to Dassault, said Airport Manager Gary Rice.

Local officials are excited about a Dassault service center because the company has the potential to bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to the area.

The center could start with about a 100 jobs and add as many as 500 in five years, Kunkle said.

Waterfield added, “It would be a huge economic engine to the Santa Maria Valley, and in my opinion it would get the ball rolling for the Airport Business Park.”

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