North Country
12:00 am
Thu October 13, 2011

Maine Aircraft Manufacturer Considering Berlin

Last week Berlin got the news that a new company – which officials declined to name - could be bringing at least 150 manufacturing jobs to the city. NHPR’s Chris Jensen has talked to the chief executive officer of that company.

The North Country could be getting into the high-tech end of the aircraft industry.

Kestrel Aircraft Company of Brunswick Maine is seriously considering setting up a plant in Berlin.

“Well, Berlin is one of the locations we have been looking at and there are a number of very interesting attributes there.”

That’s Alan Klapmeier, the chairman and CEO of Kestrel.

Klapmeier says not all the details are worked out.

But he thinks Berlin would be a great place to build the composite parts – such as the fuselage and wings - for Kestrel’s new Turboprop, a single engine plane.

The idea of composites is to produce a material that is not only lightweight but extremely strong.

The Kestrel facility would be located adjacent to the new Burgess BioPower biomass plant. It had its groundbreaking just last week.

The biomass plant is backed by Cate Street Capital, an investment firm from Portsmouth.

Cate Street officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but Klapmeier says Cate Street has been trying to get him to locate in Berlin.

Cate Street’s fiery biomass plant and the electricity it produces are attractive to Kestrel.

“The advantage for doing the composites there include the fact that the power plant would put off a bunch of waste heat that is hard to do anything with. But since we need heat to cure the parts and heat the building and all that kind of stuff there is an advantage there and obviously lower cost of electricity is always interesting.”

The parts would go into the Kestrel Turboprop, which is estimated to cost around $3 million.

“So, it looks similar to a typical general aviation airplane, but higher performance. Three hundred and twenty-five knots, carries six to eight people, cruise at high altitudes, very long range.”

The company won’t start building the plane for about three years but Klapmeier said he would hope to be building composite parts about six months after a decision is made on where to locate.

“We would first build a relatively small facility that would contain the first set of toolings, it would have the right environmental controls, it would have the ovens and such. We would use that to build the test parts and begin training the workforce in the specific techniques required for the airplane. Then, the building would be expanded.”

Under the current plan, Kestrel would truck the parts to Brunswick, Maine for final assembly.

Klapmeier says the company would create about 150 to 200 jobs which would include local hiring.

But that number could increase if the company decided to do more at the site than make the composite parts.

Kestrel is a new company and it is still developing its first plane.

However, Klapmeier has a long history in aviation. He and his brother founded Cirrus Aircraft which specializes in composite aircraft.

Cirrus ran into financial problems several years ago and earlier this year a Chinese company purchased it.

Alan Klapmeier is no longer associated with Cirrus.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen.

 

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