Kirk Hawkins, founder and CEO, Icon Aircraft at the new Vacaville manufacturing plant during an open house May 14, 2014. (Icon Aircraft)
FAIRFIELD — Reinvesting in agriculture, and commercial expansion among the county’s seven cities in 2014, topped the agenda at the 32nd annual meeting of the Solano Economic Development Corporation earlier this year in Fairfield.
As evidence of continuing growth, guest speaker Kirk Hawkins, founder and CEO of Icon Aircraft in Vacaville, provided an update on the production of its initial A5 amphibious sport and recreation model with first customer deliveries planned later this year, saying that Icon eventually will have a $350 million economic impact on the region.
The first Icon Aircraft production planes are currently undergoing flight verification testing, and 20 of its A5 amphibious light sport aircraft are scheduled to roll off the Vacaville production floor in 2015, following the completion of construction at the facility in August, Hawkins told the meeting audience.
He praised Solano for its business-friendly environment.
“Solano County is a great center for sports enthusiasts with amazing terrain, nearby lakes, year-round flying weather and proximity to world-class destinations,” he said. “The region wanted us and we wouldn’t be here without you. There is a strong labor and talent pool in the area, and we can also pull from the Bay Area’s design and technology community.”
The company has received more than 1,250 aircraft deposits, representing nearly $300 million in backlog. By comparison, Tesla Motors had approximately $100 million in order backlog just prior to its production start, Hawkins noted.
“The idea of democratizing and humanizing flying for sports enthusiasts originated when I attended Stanford University eight years ago,” said the former pilot of F-16 U.S. Air Force fighters and American Airlines 767 jumbo jets.
“The Federal Aviation Administration recognized that there were barriers to flying involving extensive training and flight time experience required for commercial aviation licensing, and established a new sport pilot license as part of its general aviation category allowing the market to grow,” he said.
This new FAA rule change transformed the industry and reinvented the category, allowing flying to become a personal, recreational and lifetime pursuit. This license takes half the time, 20 hours compared with a 40 hours for a private pilot license.
“We want to scale our solution, not scale problems that may be found along the way,” Hawkins said. “That is why we’re starting production with only 20 aircraft this year, rising to an estimated 400 deliveries in 2016 and eventually up to approximately 1,000 aircraft annually in the future, as we establish global awareness and a brand presence in the marketplace.”
Hawkins said there is “deep and pervasive global interest. Some 30 percent of our customers today are outside the U.S., and there is an aviation gold rush in China equal to that in the states.”
Icon has 100 employees. The workforce is expected to ramp up to 500 within the next year and a half.
Currently, Icon is based in Los Angeles, and research, development and production is in Tehachapi. In the third quarter of this year, all these functions will be consolidated in Vacaville when construction activities are completed.
“Flying is fairly easy at the stick-and-rudder level,” Hawkins said. “There is widespread motivation to fly as part of our pursuit of freedom and adventure — which is innate to human nature — creating an emotional connection. … People have fallen in love with our product.”
Icon A5 details
Base price: $189,000
Prerequisite: FAA medical or valid driver’s license
Top air speed: 120 mph (105 knots, 194 kph)
Takeoff speed: 60 mph
Takeoff: 750 feet on land, 800 on water
Range: 300 nautical miles
Altitude limit: 10,000 feet for sport pilots
Flight plan: Not required
Mileage: 20 miles/gallon, aviation or automobile gas.
Engine: 100-horsepower, four-cylinder Rotax 912iS
Maximum takeoff weight: 1,510 lbs.
Useful load: 430-450 lbs., depending on options
Training: 14 days for A5 customers and new pilots or much shorter for those with existing experience. Training beyond the sport license will be added later. Sport pilots can fly only in daytime, with good weather conditions and clear of controlled airspace, unless additional training is received.
Cockpit: Two-seat, sports car-style with Garmin 796 GPS navigation, VHF radio, transponder, intercom and USB music port
Wings: Foldable for trailer transport (custom trailer optional)
Steering: Water rudder, retractable landing gear and Seawings platforms for easy access and water docking
Safety: Spin-resistant airframe, BRS complete airframe parachute, angle-of-attack gauge, LED landing and taxi lights