Hamilton-based New Zealand aircraft maker Pacific Aerospace delivered its 600th aircraft recently. Business is finally showing signs of taking off for the troubled company. Plane No: 600 was a PAC 750XL. The owner of the milestone 10-seater turbo-propeller aircraft is the trans-Tasman firm Australian Aerial Surveys. Each 750XL costs about $1.3 million before any extras, such as cargo pods and advanced avionics, are added.
The company has forward contracted orders for the PAC 750XL through to early 2008. Pacific Aerospace produced five 750XLs last year, but is on track to make as many as 12 this year. Staff has increased from 105 to 125, and more recruitments are in the offing. The next eight 750XLs will be delivered to offshore operators.
But it hasn't always been clear skies. In 2005, 45 workers had to be laid off after a US company reneged on a deal to buy 12 planes worth $24 million. In 2003, a pilot died after ditching an aircraft while it was being delivered to the US. But happy days are here again. There are forward orders in the pipeline, and more money being invested in its Airport Rd facilities.
Each aircraft takes about a month to build, involving about 12,000 working hours from start to finish. The company's first aircraft was built more than 50 years ago, while No: 500 was built in 1992.
The company's most popular overseas markets are Papua New Guinea and South Africa, where the short take-off and landing (STOL) feature and the sheer ruggedness of the PAC 750XL aircraft have proved its worth. The aircraft are also popular with skydivers, and nowadays, in the passenger-utility market as well.
The 750XL can also be adapted for aerial survey and agricultural purposes.