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Trump requested, Sikorsky delivered: PA helicopter plant to stay open

Sikorsky S-70 Blackhawk. (Alan Wilson/Flickr)

Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky helicopter plant in Coatesville, which last month was scheduled to be shut down by year’s end, will stay open, saving 465 jobs, CEO Marillyn Hewson confirmed Wednesday night.

“At the request of President Trump, I took another look at our decision,” Hewson tweeted about 7:20 p.m., “and have decided to keep it open while we pursue additional work.”

The six helicopters under construction currently in Sikorsky’s Coatesville campus, at 110 Stewart-Huston Dr., are due to be complete this fall. In addition to producing several helicopters for the U.S. military, the plant also manufactures a militarized White House version of Sikorsky’s VH-92 aircraft used by the president, commonly called Marine One.

“We look forward to working with the government and Pa. congressional delegation” to find more government work for the plant, Hewson added.

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President Trump asked Hewson to save the plant last month, after Sikorsky boss Dan Schultz announced it would close by year’s end because gas companies and other buyers for the mostly civilian helicopters the plant makes have cut back on helicopter purchases.

Sikorsky planned to consolidate at its plants in Connecticut and other states.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, whose district includes the plant, had introduced legislation that would effectively force Sikorsky to slow its work on its remaining government helicopters, in hopes of keeping the plant open longer.

“This decision is a temporary reprieve and our work is not done,” Houlahan said after Hewson announced the change. She said Lockheed Martin should make “a sustained commitment to this facility, not just a temporary extension driven by a time-bound political calculus” leading up to the next election.

“Today is a good first step” until the company agrees to “concrete proposals” to assign projects for the skilled Coatesville workforce.

Said Sen. Pat. Toomey (R, Pa.): “Lockheed Martin’s commitment to keep operational the Sikorsky helicopter plant in Coatesville provides short-term certainty for 465 workers, who were expected to either lose their jobs or be relocated later this year. Many thanks to President Trump, my congressional colleagues, and community leaders with whom I worked to prevent the plant’s immediate closure.”

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U.S. Sen. Bob Casey also welcomed the news and called for more to be done.

The Democrat issued a statement that read: “I am pleased that following the June 10, 2019, letter I sent, along with the efforts of U.S. Representative Chrissy Houlahan and other local elected officials, Lockheed Martin heeded our call to keep the plant’s 465 workers on the job.

“However, while this announcement is an encouraging first step, I am concerned that the announcement lacks a specific plan to bring new work to the Coatesville facility that would keep the plant open beyond the next several months,” his statement continued. “The Sirkorsky Coatesville employees deserve answers on the long-term viability of the plant …”

Chester County and economic development officials had urged the company to find other work for the plant, and made preparations to help workers find other jobs, and solicit other operators for the factory, in case it closed.

The Philadelphia area is a center of helicopter manufacturing. Besides Sikorsky, major plants include Boeing’s Ridley Park works, which employs about 4,600 making and upgrading Chinook CH-47s and vertical-take-off Ospreys, and the Leonardo (AgustaWestland) factory at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, which employs more than 600 building civilian helicopters and plans to expand as it begins building a model for the Air Force in partnership with Boeing; along with helicopter suppliers.

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© 2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.