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Update: Dassault Falcon Jet in Little Rock Plans $60M Expansion

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Dassault Falcon Jet Corp. said Wednesday that it will invest $60 million over the next three years in refurbishment and new construction at its operations at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, expanding its footprint there by 250,000-SF.

The company, which installs avionics equipment and custom interiors in the private jets it makes elsewhere, said site preparation will begin in early 2014 and construction will take place through early 2016. The expansion will bring Dassault’s total footprint at the airport to 1.25 million SF.

The expansion will include refurbishment of its cabinet, upholstery and headliner shops and upgrades to older hangars, the company said. 

A spokesman for Dassault said the company won’t know the number of jobs created by the expansion until construction begins next year.

“Little Rock has been a major part of our company identity over the last 38 years and today is the company’s largest industrial facility,” said Eric Trappier, chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation. “It has become our worldwide center of excellence for primary completion activities and pioneered the use of digital design in cabin completion. The new investment will not only increase capacity but enhance the overall quality and efficiency of the products we provide to our customers.”

The company said its new completion facility will be “state-of-the-art,” with tools and processes that will shorten completion time and increase quality and accuracy. It noted that in 2010, it received Federal Aviation Administration approval to use 3D data during the completion process. The company said the technology will enhance quality and allow customers to visualize the final configuration of the aircraft.

In a news release, Dassault said it delivered 66 of its Falcon aircraft in 2012 and that it “expects that number to increase in the coming years.”

Keeping Falcon Here

Dassault company leaders, along with Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, revealed expansion plans at an 11 a.m. news conference.

Beebe, who called the company a “cornerstone of Arkansas’ aviation sector,” said it wasn’t easy for the state to hold on to the Little Rock facility.

“We were in a battle for this expansion,” Beebe said. “We were in a battle for this expansion that could have resulted in it going somewhere else in this country.”

Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said other cities were “very aggressively” trying to lure Dassault away from Little Rock, which would have resulted in an immediate loss of 400 jobs here.

To keep the operation in Little Rock, AEDC said it committed three types of state incentives to the expansion:

  • the “create rebate,” a cash rebate equal of 3.9 percent of the retained jobs and any new payroll for 10 years; 
  • sales tax refunds on building materials, taxable machinery and equipment associated with the expansion project;
  • and $2 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to go toward the cabinet and upholstery shop renovations and new building construction.

According to Shane Carter, the airport’s director of public policy and governmental affairs, the airport provided an incentive package totaling $43 million, “primarily as rent credits to be used over the next 40 years.”

38 Years in Little Rock

Dassault Falcon Jet is part of Dassault Aviation of Paris, France. The company has been in Little Rock since 1975, when it bought Little Rock Airmotive. At the time, its facilities were limited to a 61,500-SF hangar and office that had been used as a completion center by FedEx founder Fred Smith, who launched his overnight delivery service in the early 1970s.

In April 2012, Arkansas Business reported employment of 1,700 at Dassault, making it No. 1 among the state’s aerospace firms. The company has three other facilites in the U.S. in Teterboro, N.J.; Wilmington, Del.; and Reno, Nev.

Like its peers, the company has seen its share of ups and downs in the last decade.

In 2006 and 2007, it announced $30 million in expansions at its completion center at Adams Field, saying it would hire an additional 300 workers, including aircraft maintenance technicians and craftsmen, to meet its increased production demand.

Included in the project was a new 66,500-SF paint facility, which the company opened in 2008. The new paint facility brought the Dassault operation’s Adams Field footprint to more than 900,000 SF.

But the economic collapse curtailed demand for private jets. In June 2009, the layoffs began, with Dassault cutting 111 workers in Little Rock. And in December 2009, it laid off 205 more. By April 2010, the company had about 1,760 workers, down from its high of about 2,200 in 2009.

At the same time, Hawker Beechcraft of Witchita, Kan., which operated another aircraft completions center at Adams Field, was cutting its workforce.

After warning in fall 2008 that orders were drying up due to the economy, Hawker begain cutting workers companywide. By 2012, it had declared bankruptcy, announced plans to scuttle its business jet business and all but closed its Little Rock plant.

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