The first year's production of a new plane built by Hamilton-based Pacific Aerospace is sold out. The maker of military training and topdressing planes last night unveiled the PAC 750XL at a gathering which included Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton.
The company hopes the new plane will become a multimillion-dollar export earner. It is expected to generate $20 million a year in sales.
Staffing will have to expand by nearly 50 per cent at the company's Hamilton Airport base to cope with the new aircraft, which will be in full production within a year.
The first 10 have been sold to United States skydiving operations, and the Australia Army is also interested.
Pacific Aerospace managing director Brian Hare said the 750XL would be capable of fulfilling roles undertaken by the New Zealand Air Force's Iroquois helicopters in East Timor.
Operating and maintenance costs would be well below those of the helicopters.
Other uses include sightseeing, and there are plans for a floatplane version.
General manager Graeme Polley said the 750XL was based on the Cresco topdresser, and could lift two tonnes of freight or carry up to 17 skydivers or nine passengers.
The single-engined aircraft, which will cost just over $2 million, has short take-off and landing capability and can use unprepared airstrips.
Mr Polley said Australian Army officers had been to Hamilton to look at the aircraft.
Able to cruise at 150 knots for five hours with nine passengers, the turboprop-powered plane is expected to make an impact in remote areas in First and Third World countries because of its landing capabilities.
It also has a high climb rate - it can carry a full load of 17 skydivers to 14,000ft in 12 minutes.
Ultimately, the production rate will be one a month, and Pacific Aerospace hopes to make 10 in the first year.
However, a driving factor in meeting demand would be getting trained staff, Mr Polley said.
Pacific Aerospace needed another 20 sheetmetal workers to meet demand for its existing aircraft types, he said. A further 20 to 25 staff would be required for the new plane.
Pacific Aerospace employs 100 staff and has an annual turnover of $25 to $30 million. That is projected to increase to up to $50 million once the 750XL is in production.
Mr Hare said inspiration for the new plane came during a discussion "over a beer" in 1999.
An American visitor, impressed with the Cresco, told Mr Hare it was too bad that it could not be adapted for skydiving.
"By February 2000 we had plans on the drawing board," Mr Hare said. "But as the design evolved we realized that the 750XL's performance characteristics would be such that it would meet a lot of other needs as well."
As well as the Cresco, Pacific Aerospace makes the Fletcher topdressing plane, and the Airtrainer basic military training aircraft, which is used by the RNZAF and other air forces.
The company already makes components for Boeing 777 and 747 planes, as well as for the Airbus A330 and A340 and the McDonnell Douglas F18 Hornet jet fighter.
It has produced components for the Anzac frigates and United States Marine amphibious armoured personnel carriers.