Local airline industry braced for flight

Montrose residents and officials crowded the tarmac at Montrose Regional Airport Friday morning July 23, 2010 to view a pair of airplanes made by Extra Aircraft which announced the construction of a new manufacturing operation in Montrose creating over 200 jobs helping the local economy.

Engineers and economic developers are looking to the arrival of Extra Aircraft LLC’s manufacturing facility in Montrose to give a lift to the aviation industry in western Colorado.

Extra Aircraft’s public announcement July 23 to make Montrose its North American manufacturing home sparked hope that other aviation-related businesses might be attracted to the region.

“It helps build that industry cluster,” said Grand Junction Economic Partnership President Ann Driggers.

The Grand Valley already has many of the basic building blocks of such an industry, with several aviation-related companies, including many that were founded when Hamilton Sundstrand left the Grand Valley in 2005, Driggers said.

Wren Industries, owned by Mike Sneddon, a 20-year Hamilton Sundstrand engineer, is hoping to work with Extra Aircraft once the manufacturer gets its production line going, Sneddon said.

As it happens, Sneddon last week began moving his company from Fruita to Grand Junction, putting 10,000 square feet in the old Hamilton Sundstrand building, now owned by Colorado Printing, off Horizon Drive, back to the use for which it originally was designed.

“We’ve been doing some pretty good things” for aviation- and aerospace-related businesses in the Grand Valley and beyond, Sneddon said. “We’re basically manufacturing people” looking for ways to meet the needs of Extra once it begins building its planes in Montrose.

Extra is looking to build a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, which is relatively small by aircraft-manufacturing standards, Sneddon said.

Sneddon, like others, is looking forward to learning how Extra will phase its manufacturing process, so he can provide expertise, components and other services.

Extra Aircraft specializes in building aircraft from composites, making them lighter, faster and more fuel-efficient than metal-skinned craft, and Sneddon said he’s eager to learn if he can help work with that material.

A program that the Business Incubator Center began when Hamilton Sundstrand left could pay dividends with the development of an aviation cluster of businesses in western Colorado, said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Certifications by the International Organization for Standardization, a nongovernmental organization that comprises national-standards bodies of 149 countries, obtained through the incubator could be a strong advantage to engineering companies, tool shops and the like, Schwenke said.

The combination came close to working once before with Extra Aircraft, Driggers said. Company officials were interested in Grand Junction, but no deal could be made because the economic partnership was unable to arrange for the direct access Extra Aircraft will have to the Montrose Regional Airport runway and other facilities, she said.

Working in favor of developing an aviation-industry cluster in western Colorado are Grand Junction’s recent decision to give a sales-tax exemption for aircraft parts that are installed in the city, as well as Gov. Bill Ritter’s focus on establishing Colorado as an aviation-industry force, Driggers said.

And the fact is the aviation industry “is a very small, close-knit community,” Monument Aircraft Services owner Dana Brewer said.

“General aviation is really hurting anyway” as a result of regulations and the economic downturn, Brewer said.

“So the fact that an aircraft manufacturer is moving here, that’s good news for general aviation.”


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