Plans are in the works to bring a high-paying aircraft design and manufacturing company to the Lawrence Municipal Airport, if city commissioners are willing to spend the money to provide water and sewer service to the facility.
Lawrence-based DAR Corp. confirmed Thursday that it wants to create an operation at the airport that would allow the company to start designing and building prototype aircraft.
The company’s president estimates the facility within the next five years would employ 65 people with an average annual salary of $80,000.
“Improvements at the airport, I think, would be very positive for the community,” said Willem Anemaat, president of DAR Corp. “Just in my company alone, our revenue would be about $10 million per year after four to five years, and hopefully even more beyond that.”
The airport in North Lawrence doesn’t have standard city water and sewer service. Anemaat said his plans for a 25,000-square-foot hangar and a 12,000-square-foot office building wouldn’t be possible without the city services.
City leaders don’t have a firm estimate for how much it would cost to get water and sewer service to the site, although past estimates have been near the $2 million range.
City Manager David Corliss said he plans to ask city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting to consider hiring an engineer to study the best ways to extend services to the airport.
Corliss said he thinks it is worth the several thousand dollars it will cost for an engineering study because the community could have much to gain by making the airport more development friendly.
“We’re pleased with the level of interest that we’ve been receiving at the airport,” Corliss said. “I agree with a number of people that our airport is an underutilized economic development tool.”
Corliss said he’s recommending, for the moment, that the city focus on providing sewer service just to the airport property, and not get involved in a larger discussion of providing sewer service to the area surrounding the airport.
A Lawrence-development group has proposed building a business park on the property surrounding the airport, but those plans have been met with stiff opposition by neighbors.
“I think we see that as an independent land use decision,” Corliss said of proposals by Lawrence businessman Jes Santaularia to develop 100 acres of property adjacent to the airport.
The DAR project had members of the local aviation community buzzing, in particular because it has the potential to tie Lawrence into the growing Chinese aviation market.
Anemaat confirmed that he has accelerated plans for his project after negotiations with a group of Chinese investors have intensified.
Anemaat said the market for aircraft in China is expected to increase as the Chinese government eases restrictions on public pilots to use Chinese airspace.
“There are over a billion people living there, they are starting to open up the airspace to the public, and there a quite a few millionaires over there who can afford to buy aircraft,” Anemaat said.
Ron Renz, president of Lawrence-based Alligator Inc., said the Chinese delegation toured his facilities within the last month. His company could ultimately provide flight testing services for the prototype aircraft that would be designed in Lawrence.
“This particular opportunity looks very promising,” Renz said. “All of the due diligence hasn’t been completed yet, but it looks like it can be the real deal.”
Anemaat said he believes his company will need a significant presence at the Lawrence airport regardless of whether the Chinese deal is completed.
“I believe we’ll be out there one way or another,” Anemaat said. “This is the area of our business that we really want to expand.”
The company has been in Lawrence since 1991, and has 12 employees in an office on Wakarusa Drive. It has done a variety of design work for aircraft, but the company has not been involved in manufacturing the actual prototypes that must be built before the aircraft can be certified for use.
The company also has a division that does design work for wind energy industry. Anemaat said that work also would take place at the airport facility.
Rick Bryant, chair of the city’s Aviation Advisory Board, said the city also has been approached by a company that wants to build a 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot hangar to house three helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft that are part of its business. The company, which Bryant declined to name, would bring about five jobs to the airport.
Kansas University also is interested in expanding its presence at the airport, said Mark Ewing, chair of the engineering school’s department of aerospace engineering. Ewing said the school would like additional hangar space that would allow it to expand the amount of prototype work it conducts.
Local aviation leaders said the KU presence gives the city a major opportunity to make Lawrence a significant player in the aviation design business. DAR was founded by former KU professor Jan Roskam, who has served as a consultant and designer for most of the world’s major aircraft manufacturers.
“He’s really beyond world renown in the aeronautical industry,” said Lawrence resident and longtime commercial pilot Nelson Krueger.