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Helicopter maker Leonardo adds 166 jobs, $65 million training center in Northeast Philadelphia

Leonardo, the Italian helicopter maker, says it will spend $65 million to build a 60,000 square foot “training academy” adjacent to its Northeast Philadelphia plant over the next year.

The MH-139 Helicopter built by Leonardo Helicopters at the Northeast Airport will replace the old Hueys that are guarding missles and other special uses.
The MH-139 Helicopter built by Leonardo Helicopters at the Northeast Airport will replace the old Hueys that are guarding missles and other special uses.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Leonardo, the Italian helicopter maker, said it will spend $65 million to build a 60,000-square-foot training facility adjacent to its Northeast Philadelphia plant over the next year.

The facility will train pilots, crews, and mechanics for Air Force helicopters in partnership with Boeing’s Delaware County plant, and for civilian craft. The company also said it will add 166 hires to the 590 people already working at the site, at the city-owned Northeast Philadelphia Airport. March 11: Leonard on Monday updated its earlier hiring target date: it now say sit will likely add the new staff over the next year.

Leonardo disclosed the facility and the hires in Atlanta at the yearly Heli-Expo 2019 trade show.

Company officials said they are not receiving state aid or tax breaks. State and city officials confirmed they didn’t give financial incentives.

The new training facility is designed to serve pilots, air crews and maintenance mechanics, and engineers from around North America and Latin America. That should generate new business for area hotels, restaurants, and others that cater to visitors.

Leonardo said it trained more than 10,000 people last year, mostly at its facilities in Italy, Britain, and Malaysia. The one near corporate headquarters north of Milan is the model for the planned Philadelphia center.

In September, the company was awarded part of a $325 million U.S. Air Force contract to replace a fleet of 1960s-era Huey helicopters that guard U.S. nuclear missile launch sites, with new MH-139 helicopters, based on a Leonardo model. The training facility will train Boeing and Air Force pilots and maintenance people.

The Air Force helicopters will be assembled at Leonardo’s plant in Philadelphia, with weapons systems added by Boeing at its larger Ridley Park, Delaware County, plant. Boeing’s Ridley work employs about 4,000 designing and building Chinook helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor craft for the U.S. and its military allies and client nations.

Leonardo, previously known as Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland division, was until recently best known in the U.S. as a builder of civilian helicopters, which it sold to customers including energy exploration companies during the early 2010s oil and gas boom.

Besides the military MH-139 helicopters, the facility will focus on Leonardo’s AW-139 helicopters on which its Air Force ships are based; the AW-609 tilt-rotor aircraft, which Leonardo said is approaching mass production “ahead of FAA certification;" the AW-119 model, built only in Philadelphia; and the AW-169 light-intermediate helicopter.

It will include full flight simulators and “virtual” training equipment. The facility will also be a center for Rotorsim USA, a joint venture training group in which Leonardo partners with CAE, a Canadian flight-simulator maker.

The Air Force contract is the first part of a larger purchase the service expects will top $2.38 billion for a total of 80 aircraft, plus training and equipment. Boeing and Leonardo beat a version of rival Lockheed Martin’s Black Hawk helicopter and other bidders to win the contract.

Although Leonardo is expanding, Boeing has been careful not to drive up expectations of new hiring from the Air Force project. The company said that deal and others will help keep existing engineering and production staff busy into the future.

Members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation regularly urge colleagues and the White House to keep projects flowing to the plants, one of the region’s last large concentrations of well-paid union industrial jobs. Besides the Boeing and Leonardo plants in the area, Lockheed Martin makes civilian helicopters through its Sikorsky helicopter factory near Coatesville.