A plan to bring new high-paying aviation industry jobs serving a large Russian-designed amphibious, firefighting aircraft to the area was outlined during a Santa Maria Public Airport District meeting Thursday.
Seaplane Global Air Services recently obtained a tentative agreement with Russian trade officials to build Be-200s -- a large, amphibious, multipurpose aircraft designed by the Beriev Aircraft Company -- in the U.S.
James Bagnard of Seaplane Global and his partners, which include Airbus Industries and Santa Maria-based air transportation firm IES, plan to sign a memorandum of understanding with their Russian partners, which will solidify the deal, this month.
“I have been working on this for three years,” Bagnard said.
If all goes according to plan, Airbus Industries will build the Be-200s and they will be maintained at a Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) facility to be built in Santa Maria.
“It will bring high-paying jobs here,” Bagnard said.
The Be-200 is a large aircraft that has the ability, among others, to take off and land in water, scoop up 12 tons of water and then drop that water on a wildfire in 18 seconds.
“The aircraft is about the size of a 737,” Bagnard said.
The Be-200 also can drop fire retardant chemicals, and deliver cargo, firefighters and other emergency equipment where they are needed.
The airplane has a pressurized cabin and can be fitted with seats to carry passengers.
“It is a purpose-built aircraft. There is no other airplane like this one. It fits the bill for what the U.S. needs,” Bagnard said.
Bagnard is an experienced pilot. He flew firefighting aircraft, along with military and commercial jets.
Once the agreement is inked, Seaplane Global Air Services plans to start building the MRO in Santa Maria, and hire technicians and training personnel at the beginning of next year.
Also on Thursday night, Santa Maria Public Airport District's board approved sending a delegation to meet with Skywest Airlines to discuss bringing back large airline service to the Santa Maria Public Airport, filling the gap created when United Airlines stopped serving the airport Oct. 5.
On Nov. 8, Airport General Manager Chris Hastert will travel to George, Utah, with two community representatives -- Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Jim Bray, public and government affairs manager for Pacific Coast Energy Co., to meet with Skywest Airlines.
Skywest is a regional airline that has partnerships with large carriers like Delta Air Lines, American and Alaska Airlines.