Jetmaker Safire Aircraft hopes to build $45 million plant, employ 1,000 at Opa-locka Airport
By Frank Norton
Jet manufacturer Safire Aircraft plans to build a $45 million plant at Opa-locka Airport.
Safire plans to convert more than 50 acres of Opa-locka's airfield into a 500,000-square-foot assembly line employing nearly 1,000 workers and turning out four aircraft per day - an investment worth $45 million in property, plant and equipment, said Safire CEO Camilo Salomon.
The state and county have agreed to an incentive package worth nearly $10 million, Mr. Salomon said.
"We finally got collaboration from the county mayor's office and aviation department," said Safire CEO Camilo Salomon. "They helped provide excellent facilities for our development phase."
Safire wrangled with Miami-Dade County officials earlier this year for incentives to move here. But after failing to find a temporary home, Safire threatened to leave South Florida for Jacksonville or San Antonio.
Miami Executive Aviation CEO Fabio Alexander said he had offered to lease his own space to Safire after he "heard rumors that Safire couldn't find any."
"I don't think the county really understands how big this is," said Mr. Alexander. "It's as if Ford were going to build a plant here, but instead, we're getting a jetmaker."
Safire is now occupying a 50,000-square-foot facility at 15001 NW 42nd Ave., where it will develop its prototype S-26 six-person twin-engine jet.
Company executives are looking for a developer to build a permanent plant and headquarters at Opa-locka Airport, in a county-designated empowerment zone, which provides tax and other incentives to resident companies.
The Beacon Council declined comment on the move.
Safire is working with development consultants to try to persuade suppliers to launch operations at Opa-locka Airport. "Our ultimate goal is to put Miami on the map as a major aviation industry center," Mr. Salomon said.
The company has presold 723 aircraft, which it hopes to confirm next year after demonstrating the S-26's first successful flight. That should bring in about $90 million in cash, Mr. Salomon said.
Safire is targeting private businesses, charter operators and air-taxi companies - which can take market share in business travel from large commercial carriers, said consultant Rick Elder.
"They're dinosaurs that will not survive unless they can offer lower-fare flights on shorter point-to-point trips," he said. "It's a huge market because businesses are clamoring for more convenience where you avoid lines of security checks and perceived terrorism risk," he said.
Bob Booth, chairman of Miami-based aviation consultant AvGroup, said regional flight markets are underserved and contain "tremendous growth potential."
Miami-Dade aviation director Angela Gittens is skeptical. "Time will tell whether they can come up with a model that can be sold cheaply enough to realize their vision," she said.