Ponoka remains in hunt for aircraft plant

The Town of Ponoka remains hopeful that it might one day become an aerospace hotspot. But it’s now pursuing this possibility in partnership with other communities

The Town of Ponoka remains hopeful that it might one day become an aerospace hotspot. But it’s now pursuing this possibility in partnership with other communities.

In December, it was revealed that Ponoka was on a short list of sites being considered for an aircraft manufacturing plant. Terry Ferguson, an investment adviser from Edmonton who is working as project facilitator for Aeromax Loadstar Ltd., said that Ponoka and Wetaskiwin were frontrunners for the project.

Aeromax Loadstar, which is a subsidiary of Seattle-based Aeromax International Inc., wants to produce a new utility aircraft with a broad range of uses. It’s chosen Alberta as its preferred manufacturing site, pointing to the relatively low business costs here.

The appeal of Ponoka, Ferguson said previously, is the availability of land near its airport runway and the support of the community in pushing the project forward. He explained that Aeromax is seeking investors who would become limited partners in the venture and finance the plant and its operations.

Ferguson now says that Ponoka and Wetaskiwin have gone from being competitors to allies, with Leduc a third member of a municipal consortium seeking to bring Aeromax Loadstar to this area.

“They said they were going to look at this as a regional initiative,” he said, referring to the trio as the LWP (Leduc-Wetaskiwin-Ponoka) Region.

Brad Watson, Ponoka’s chief administrative officer, confirmed that the communities are working together to attract Aeromax Loadstar. Ponoka remains involved, he said, with research conducted by the town supporting the market potential of the aircraft.

The Aeromax Loadstar is being promoted as an alternative to the de Havilland Twin Otter — the longtime workhorse of the utility aircraft industry. The Aeromax would have a 5,000-pound-capacity cargo bay capable of holding standard shipping containers.

A full-scale mock-up of the plane was created several years ago with funding from a Red Deer-based investor group.

If a manufacturing plant is built here, a flying prototype of the Aeromax would be developed, with the first planes ready for sale in four years, said Ferguson. Production would eventually ramp up to 144 planes a year, with a thousand jobs and annual economic benefits of $300 million resulting.

Watson said in December that the appeal of an aircraft manufacturing plant is the fact it would be a clean, high-tech business and generate significant economic benefits.

Ferguson said the three municipalities are concentrating on bringing Aeromax Loadstar to the region, with the specific location of the plant to be worked out later.

“They’ve agreed that no matter where the project is located, as far as the plant, they will all benefit.”

Ferguson pointed out that Aeromax International will ultimately decide where the plant will go, regardless of his recommendations. He added that a site elsewhere in the province could still be chosen, particularly if there was interest from investors there.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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