Decision pending for Embraer contract

by David Chapman, Staff Writer
Daily Record

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority has been issued a building permit to renovate the former Piedmont hangar, a step a JAA spokesman says anticipates a U.S. Air Force contract decision about construction of a light attack aircraft.

The permit, approved Dec. 13, shows Balfour Beatty Construction LLC will renovate the 41,574-square-foot S-11 hangar at Jacksonville International Airport at a project cost of $750,000.

It is the same hangar the authority's board of directors in August 2010 approved to lease to Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer, should the company secure a military contract to construct its A-29 Super Tucano warplane.

Embraer's U.S. headquarters are in Fort Lauderdale.

Sierra Nevada Corp., which partnered with Embraer, was awarded a $355 million U.S. Department of Defense contract a year ago to build the planes at JIA and create 50 jobs.

It was awarded after Wichita, Kan.-based Hawker Beechcraft was cut in a "pre-award exclusion" but then filed suit against the U.S. government in January. In response, the Air Force put the deal on hold before it was set aside in February.

Bids from the two companies were due June 16.

During a May board meeting, authority Executive Director Steve Grossman said a decision from the government would likely be made "after the first of the year."

Authority spokesman Michael Stewart on Tuesday said the renovation is in anticipation of an announcement that Embraer could win the contract and restart the long-awaited project.

He said if the government decided against Embraer, the renovations still would improve the facility's marketability to another tenant.

"Our position is we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful," Stewart said.

Sources said an announcement for the project likely would be in January or February, possibly Jan. 10.

The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment.

Bob Stangarone, Embraer North America vice president of corporate communications, said he could not comment about an announcement date but said the company "is eager to get started" and would immediately begin operations if selected.

"We certainly believe we have the most capable and experienced aircraft for the mission," Stangarone said.

City Council approved an incentives package for Embraer in January 2011 for the 50-job project.

The company was approved for a $150,000 Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund, with $30,000 from the City and the remaining $120,000 from the state. The incentives were contingent on the company receiving the contract and creating the jobs, which had to be done by Dec. 31.

It also was contingent on the company receiving $400,000 from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund and $100,000 from the Quick Response Training, neither of which needed City approval.

The City and State can extend the incentives agreement., (904) 356-2466