Helicopter plant expands and expands

February 19, 2008 4:42:04 PM PST
A multi-million dollar expansion is giving one Philadelphia helicopter plant reason to celebrate.AugustaWestland on Red Lion Road may be the largest manufacturer you have never heard of.

They build high performance helicopters worth 12 to 15 million dollars a piece.

Many politicians attended Tuesday's ribbon cutting for a major expansion.

"These are the most advanced helicopters that are being produced in the world, and they are being produced right here in Northeast Philadelphia," Representative Allison Schwartz (D) of Philadelphia said.

The sprawling complex started 20 years ago as a small US outpost for Italian based Agusta. Since that time, sales have taken off.

Originally, employment ranged about 100, and then it doubled, and then doubled again.

"We are now over 400 jobs, today. We plan to have 500 by the end of the year," Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AugustaWestland, said.

With an average wage of around $20 an hour, the jobs are not entry level jobs. The company pays 100 percent of the health insurance for workers and their spouses. They also provide a 401 K program and a separate retirement plan.

Workers say that they quit jobs elsewhere to work at Agusta.

"That's why I came up here. I didn't have health insurance last year and I got into a little accident. I paid out of pocket. I wasn't doing that again," Joe Wills of Northeast Philadelphia said.

AugustaWestland may not be a household name for many of us, but that will likely change.

The next presidential helicopter, Marine One, will be an Agusta model. It won't be built here, but choppers from this plant have been delivered to US Homeland Security agencies and to the Pennsylvania State Police.