Aurora Flight Sciences, a Manassas-based aerospace-engineering firm that’s developing a system to enable U.S. Marines to fly unmanned helicopters into war zones, will soon embark on a $13.75 million expansion of its headquarters at the city’s airport.

     The 29-year-old company, acquired by Boeing in 2017, currently employs more than 200 people who work out of four aircraft hangars at the Manassas Regional Airport.

     The expansion, announced July 26, will add 135 more employees to the Manassas operation as well as a new “robotics and integration facility” that will include a manufacturing unit, a research and development lab, a hangar and office space, according to press releases about the expansion.

      Aurora Flight Sciences will move some of its existing operations into the new facility and expects to use the space for future projects, Aurora Flight Sciences Communications Manager Luisa Guerra said.

     The company makes unmanned aircraft as well as the computer systems that fly them. The company’s  aircraft have been used for survey work, climate study and even to track the migration of sharks, Guerra said.

     “We are literally overflowing,” Guerra said of the company’s current space. 

     Aurora is continually hiring engineers to work on its many projects, some which are completely developed onsite -- from writing the computer code to building the aircraft, Guerra said. 

     The expansion was assisted by a $500,000 contribution from the City of Manassas in the form of improvements to Wakeman Drive, which runs along the company’s current buildings at the Manassas Regional Airport. 

     The work will expand the roadway, add sidewalks and build a new parking lot. Aurora’s new facility will be built on the company’s existing parking lot, said Patrick Small, economic development manager for the City of Manassas.

     Former Governor Terry McAuliffe approved a $500,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist Manassas with the project. Aurora will also be eligible to receive sales and use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment, as well as a “Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit,” all of which are state tax benefits. 

     The company does not currently receive any local tax incentives from the City of Manassas, Small said. It pays real estate taxes on its current buildings, which are assessed at $4 million, and leases the land it occupies from the City of Manassas, which owns the airport. 

     The total amount of tax revenue Aurora Flight Sciences pays to the city, which includes business-property taxes, is confidential, Small said.

    Small said the expansion is significant both in terms of investment and prestige.

    “The intangible benefits to the city are tremendous,” Small said. “It’s a real seal of approval for the city that they not only have operations here but also plan to expand and add jobs.”

     Both the City of Manassas and Gov. Ralph Northam’s office released notices touting the deal last week. Northam (D) spoke of Virginia’s “leading position” in the aerospace industry, which comprises 275 different firms with a presence in the commonwealth. 

     Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) called Aurora Flight Sciences a “vital part of the Manassas business community.”

     Aurora Flight Sciences “exemplifies everything a locality wants from its corporate partners—steady growth, community engagement and great jobs—helping make us a regional employment center with one of the highest percentages of high-wage jobs in professional and technical services in Virginia; especially for companies engaged in the fields of aerospace and advanced manufacturing,” Parrish said. 

     Aurora also operates production plants in West Virginia and Mississippi, as well as research and development centers in Massachusetts, Ohio and California. The company runs its European business ventures from an office in Luzern, Switzerland.

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com.

     

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