Jet maker expanding its LR site $20 million addition will help Dassault fill new orders

Dassault Falcon Jet, the business aviation manufacturer, announced on Tuesday a $20 million expansion of its Little Rock facility.

"We hope that's merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of Dassault," Gov. Mike Beebe said at the announcement.

The company is responding in part to demand for its Falcon 7X, the company's flagship. More than 165 orders for the jet have been received, according to the company.

Also, the first of the completed planes was delivered Tuesday afternoon and received its certificate of airworthiness from the Federal Aviation Administration.

After planes are assembled in Bordeaux, France, they are flown to the Little Rock center, which customizes the planes. Dassault Falcon is a wholly owned subsidiary of France-based Dassault Aviation.

Dassault purchased Little Rock Airmotive, a 61,500-square-foot hangar and office facility, in 1975. It is now the company's largest facility, and more than 1,000 jets have been completed in Little Rock since its opening. The new facilities will include 116,000 square feet of production, design and warehouse space, including a four-bay paint facility and new engineering facilities. According to David Mitchell, director of facilities, Dassault most recently expanded in 2002 and 2005. The newest addition should be finished by early 2008 and will bring the size of the Little Rock operation to 827,000 square feet.

"Dassault has been very zealous in gaining a foothold in the business aviation industry," Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said during the announcement. "This expansion allows for the continued growth of the aviation business in Little Rock." The company had previously announced it is adding up to 200 jobs in anticipation of the physical expansion revealed Tuesday. The new jobs will pay an average of $20 an hour.

According to spokesman Andrew Ponzoni, employment at the facility has increased steadily over the past few years. He said that in 2003 about 1,300 people were employed in Little Rock, and now the facility is fast approaching 2,000 employees.

Christian Sasso, senior vice president and general manager of the Little Rock facility, said the annual payroll is currently $116 million, but he expects it to reach $200 million by the end of the year.

"In the last few years, this market is growing very quick," he said in an interview after the announcement. "We are the world leader ... We need people. It's very simple." Sasso stressed the importance of qualified workers and the need to continue to raise awareness at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Pulaski Technical College.

Dassault received about $175,000 in incentives from the state and Little Rock.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics contributed $62,500 each and Little Rock gave $50,000.

"We provided some infrastructure," Maria Haley, director of the commission, said in an interview after the announcement. "But this was a real partnership." "I think what it really is, is paying attention to their needs, and that's what we did," Haley added.

Beebe said, "We cannot forget those that are here and already invested in our people."

This article was published 06/13/2007

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