Tuesday, March 17, 2015

North Bay Business Journal - Solano’s Icon preparing for takeoff

Monday, March 16, 2015, 7:00 am

Solano’s Icon preparing for takeoff


Kirk Hawkins of Icon Aircraft
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

Other Solano developments

‘Substantial’ agribusiness reinvestment

The county added more than 1.5 million square feet of new commercial and industrial space last year, with wine production, storage and distribution facilities leading the way, according to Colliers International market data presented by Sandy Person, EDC president.

Solano had a 9 percent vacancy rate last year, but that is now down to 6.9 percent (with only 2.1 percent in Vacaville). Unemployment is also down from 7.4 percent a year ago to 6.1 percent in December — with Benicia having the lowest jobless rate of 3.7 percent followed by Dixon, Rio Vista and Vacaville in the 4 percent range, according to the state Employment Development Department.

“There has been a substantial reinvestment in our agriculture infrastructure. Superior Farms, the largest meat packer on the West Coast, is modernizing and expanding, and 4,000 acres of row crops in the county are being converted to walnuts and almonds yielding higher market commodity prices while also increasing land values.”

She said last year “we celebrated the Caymus Vineyards expansion, and the Suisun Valley Farm to Market project featuring a series of Class II bike and pedestrian routes connecting residents to agribusinesses.”

In addition, access to premium grapes and water fueled the purchase by Gallo of two local wineries and vineyards, Ledgewood Creek and Winterhawk.


A highlight for Fairfield last year was Buzz Oates Development’s new Solano Logistics Center, occupied by Saxco International and Encore Glass bottle suppliers.

The current industrial vacancy rate in Fairfield is 3.5 percent. Wine-related businesses now occupy more than 2.5 million square feet of such space, including newcomer Guala Closures.

The Wiseman Co.’s Westside Professional Center II at 2470 Hilborn Rd. off Interstate 80 was the only speculative office building built in 2014.

Suisun City

Suisun City’s Wal-Mart Supercenter is set to open this spring with 300 jobs and be a “significant” source for capturing a portion of the annual $77 million in sales tax dollars needed for city services but are leaking to other communities, according to Person.

The new $700,000 train depot improvement project, to begin construction in 2015, is designed to modernize the region’s commute center for rail and bus services.


The city of Vallejo has two new attractions, the Mare Island Brewing Company Tap Room in the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and the refurbished 1910 Lighthouse event venue at Glen Cove Marina.

The $3.7 million expansion and remodeling of Medic Ambulance facilities has led to an increase from 45 employees and 10 ambulances in 1993 to 220 employees and 55 ambulances today.

Last May, Mare Island Dry Dock was awarded a $5.1 million U.S. Coast Guard contract for dry dock services and ship repairs for the icebreaker Polar Star.

The city of Vallejo also released a request for qualifications (RFQ) on July 18, 2014, seeking qualified respondents to develop all or part of more than 150 acres at the north end of Mare Island.

The city received 11 responses and is currently evaluating three industrial-focused proposals.


The Sacramento Bee’s California Traveler published a color feature on Benicia, and Diablo Magazine named the city of Benicia as the “Best of the East Bay for First Street Retail and a Late Night Spot.” NerdWallet.com also named Benicia as a “Best City in Northern California for Young Families,” enhancing the city’s tourism and residential appeal.

In its first two years, Benicia’s Business Resource Incentive Program (BRIP) helped 20 businesses achieved annual savings of over $200,000 in reduced energy costs with yearly reductions of 267 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions.

The city also received the League of California Cities Helen Putnam Award for “Excellence in City-Business Relations.”

In response, the Benicia City Council allocated an additional $500,000 to the program, creating BRIP2.

Rio Vista

In Rio Vista, the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering two sites for a new Fish and Wildlife Service Technology Center, either at the Rio Vista Army Base or at a site across from the Port of Stockton. Final site selection is set to be completed by fall 2016. This center will create an estimated 160 jobs and involve some $85 million of state and federal spending.

Rio Vista was also awarded the 2014 Solano Transportation Authority Award in November for “Rio Vision.” It was a Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team project via the American Institute of Architects that involved a community workshop.


Dixon has added a Brookfield Cottages housing community with 101 units at Parklane. Ms. Person said the Brookfield project is part of the most active building permit period seen in Dixon since 2007.


Vacaville continues to expand with more food retailers and other tenants at The Nut Tree: China Stix, Fuji Sushi, Pieology Pizza, Buckhorn BBQ, Firehouse Subs, Noodles & Co., The Habitat Burger Grill, Travis Credit Union and Verizon Wireless. Vacaville Premium Outlets welcomed North Face Outlet, Oakley Vault, Seven For All Mankind, Kate Spade New York, Bass Shoes, Starbucks, Express, and Toys ‘R’ Us Express. Other new businesses include Journey Coffee and Chick-Fil-A.

The incoming EDC Chairperson is Laura Kuhn, Vacaville city manager. She succeeds Immediate Past Chair Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, former CEO of the Travis Credit Union.