Waikato aviation industry thriving in recession

August 15, 2013

By Tristram Clayton

While the world has been worrying itself through the global recession, Waikato's aviation industry has been quietly getting on with the job of building and selling planes.

While it has not escaped the recession altogether, it has coped remarkably well.

The country's plane-building industry began here during World War II. It now earns $800 million a year - more than the wine industry.

"Aviation is generally below the radar, but when you think of 1000 aeroplanes manufactured in the Waikato, that's significant," says John Jones, Aviation Industry Cluster, "and there's been a lot of success and a lot of successful people here."

Pacific Aerospace is one of those success stories.

"We're rapt to have the number 1000," says Damian Camp, CEO. "We have contributed a large number to the total – 627 - and it's something we can celebrate."

The company employs 155 people in the Waikato, and that is likely to increase with the growing international appeal of its biggest-selling aircraft, the P-750; a passenger and freight plane renowned for its short takeoff and landing ability.

"It is so rugged and lending from that agricultural heritage," says Mr Camp. "We know what breaks and what doesn't, so we've strengthened it over the years of development to what we have, which gets into those areas that are tight and require that short-field performance and can do the job that competitors can't."

Micro Aviation is the country's second biggest manufacturer, making some of the smallest aircraft around - microlights.

"In the last few years it's been brilliant, it's so exciting," says CEO Max Clear. "In fact we don't even call it work - we go to our hobby every day and it's such good fun."

The company says it is a challenge trying to keep up with the demand.

"It's taking every two weeks we turn an aircraft out," he says. "We certainly want to get it down to one a week, every four or five days which we can do, and this stage we're all geared up – it's just a matter of employing the staff."

The recession has been felt in parts of the industry, but it hasn't stopped plans for a new composite factory and plane painting facility.

"Some of the opportunities are just mind-blowing," says Mr Jones. "We believe we have the potential to do a little over $900 million a year here."

"We're only a little country, only 4 million people," says Mr Clear. "We can take on the world. We've proved that with so many people in New Zealand, it's so wide open."

It has taken the Waikato aviation industry nearly 50 years to produce its first 1000 planes, but it calculates it will take only seven to produce the next 1000.

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