Leonardo, the Italian company that bought helicopter company Kopter in 2020, is no longer planning to produce its new aircraft in Lafayette, the company confirmed Friday.
In a statement, the company said that it reached an agreement with airport officials to end its lease. The decision to end the contract came after Leonardo bought the Swiss helicopter company and reviewed the company’s footprint.
Kopter news:Kopter resuming test flights for helicopter to be built in Lafayette for North America
More:Sale finalized of helicopter company Kopter, with plans to build Lafayette production base
“Following a thorough examination of Kopter’s presence in the USA since its acquisition, Leonardo took the final decision to terminate the lease for the facility based in Lafayette, Louisiana, which entered into place in March 2019,” the company said in a statement.
When Leonardo announced it was purchasing Kopter in early 2020, a Kopter spokesperson said the company “[doesn’t] anticipate to change our plans for Lafayette and expect to stick to our commitments.
Don Pierson, the secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, said when the sale was made that he had no reason to think it would affect the company’s plans in Lafayette.
But following its review of US assets, Leonardo decided to instead build its new AW09 helicopters in Philadelphia, citing a longstanding partnership with the city.
“Leonardo indeed came to the conclusion that the best and most affordable in-country solution to support the AW09 program in the key US market is to leverage the long-established local industrial presence of Leonardo Helicopters in Philadelphia, which already benefits from full commercial, training, support and engineering capabilities for other Leonardo products,” the company said.
Leonardo said the company and airport officials agreed that the company could end the lease by buying out the existing contract and handing over a fully-operational building.
The company said it has maintained the building since taking it over in 2019.
Mandi Mitchell, the president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, said LEDA is actively marketing the facility. She said LEDA has toured the facility with prospective tenants, has an outreach campaign with aviation and aerospace companies, and is building connections for the upcoming Heli EXPO tradeshow in March.
On Friday, LEDA officials were returning from a meeting with aviation and aerospace site selectors at the Site Selectors Guild Conference. Mitchell said LEDA will be following up on leads on new tenants from that event.
“Aviation has a long history in the region, and we are committed to growing aviation manufacturing and the MRO sector in Lafayette Parish—with the LFT facility as a nexus point,” Mitchell said.
The state offered Kopter several incentives to come to Lafayette, including a $1.2 million grant for facility modifications and a $1.3 million grant for lease support. Mitchell said LEDA did not offer any local incentives.
Kopter news:Lafayette lands helicopter company, 120 jobs
More:Louisiana reaches settlement on Bell Helicopter deal after project grounded
Bringing Kopter’s manufacturing operations to Lafayette was one of the region’s biggest economic development wins over the last few years. The project promised to add 120 direct jobs with an average annual salary of $55,000 plus benefits. LED estimated it would add 157 indirect jobs as well.
The $25-million facility at the Lafayette Regional Airport was built with state money and was originally planned to be used by Bell Textron, another company that manufactures helicopters. The deal fell through, but Kopter stepped in to fill the void.
Kopter initially planned to use the Lafayette facility to manufacture its new SH09 helicopter, now called the AW09, for the US market. The helicopter design has garnered significant interest and is designed for medical evacuation, surveillance, law enforcement, passenger transport and sightseeing, aerial work and utility missions.