Leesburg Lands New Seaplane Business and More Jobs at International Airport

The Leesburg City Commission on Monday approved an agreement to bring Minnesota-based seaplane business Wipaire Inc. and up to 80 new jobs to Leesburg International Airport. 

Wipaire will lease a temporary location at Hangar No. 1 on Airport Boulevard with preliminary plans to move to a newly constructed facility with up to 20,000 square feet of hangar space and another 10,800 square feet of offices. If approved, the company’s Southeastern Service Center would become the largest facility at Leesburg International Airport. 

New Seaplane BusinessWipaire expects to initially employ 10 people to provide seaplane repair and maintenance services by April of 2013. The company’s goal is to employ between 70 and 80 people with a larger range of repair, painting and equipment installations, modifications and flight training for seaplanes. 

“I see this as a real opportunity,” said Mayor Sanna Henderson, who credits Leesburg’s new partnership with Wipaire to the growing success of the seaplane base and events in nearby Tavares. 

“We want to get a little bit of that action.” 

The City of Leesburg rolled out the red carpet for Wipaire, according to City Manager Jay Evans. “We first spoke the company about two months ago. Since then, we’ve found them a hangar, separate office space, temporary storage for some newly acquired equipment, and identified airport property they now wish to develop.” He added that “the City Commission will examine the feasibility of a seaplane ramp on Lake Harris over the next year or so”. 

Tavares City Administrator John Drury said the seaplane industry is quickly beginning to recognize this part of Central Florida as a premier destination for business and recreation. 

“I think we always knew that Leesburg International Airport would play a vital role in accommodating the support for seaplane flight training, avionics, maintenance, upholstery, painting and all of the things that go into making a seaplane airworthy,” Drury explained. Wipaire is based in St. Paul, Minnesota, where it has grown tremendously as a family-owned business for 52 years. It now employs 180 people and exceeds $30 million in annual sales. The company is well established for designing, manufacturing and installing seaplane floats and skis for various aircraft. It also specializes in seaplane maintenance, modifications, flight training and aircraft and equipment sales. Wipaire works with corporate clients as well as national governments. 

“The work we do in St. Paul is the exact work we want to do here,” said Lee Webb, Wipaire’s vice president of aircraft services. 

Leesburg City Commissioner Bill Polk welcomed the new airport lease with Wipaire and encouraged the company and the city to help each other to develop more seaplane business here: “I look for the opportunity here to grow and learn.” 

The City Commission approved a 12-month lease with Wipaire for Corporate Hangar No. 1.. Wipaire currently is hiring mechanics and other staff for its Leesburg operations. To help accommodate future growth of the company and others that might also move to Leesburg, the city is looking into building a new seaplane ramp that will provide amphibious access for seaplanes to nearby Lake Harris. The ramp may cost about $1 million, which could be funded in part by state and local transportation and economic development grants. 

The proposed ramp, which is supported by Leesburg’s Airport Advisory Board, would benefit Wipaire as well as other companies that may support seaplane activities in this area. For more information about Leesburg International Airport and the agreement with Wipaire, contact Leesburg’s Deputy City Manager Doug Drymon at (352) 728-9704. 

Leesburg is a progressive city of more than 20,000 residents in northwest Lake County. The city government serves twice as many people with its electric, gas, water, wastewater and fiber-optic public utilities. Leesburg also is a central hub for commerce, attracting 50,000 people to work each weekday.