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Boeing to build pilot training center at Castle

Alteon Training, a subsidiary of aerospace giant The Boeing Company, will launch a pilot training center at Castle Commerce Center early next year, Merced County officials announced Thursday.

The center, slated to open in February, will be jointly run by Alteon and the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics. Using a $15 million simulator, the center will train about 200 pilots a year from around the globe to fly Boeing 737 passenger airliners, according to a statement released by the county.

County officials are hailing the deal as a major step in the redevelopment of the decommissioned Castle Air Force Base, which the county has long pointed to as a vital part of its economic future. The base was handed to the county after the military's departure in 1995; the county is working to redevelop it into a commercial airport and business center.

"This is very exciting for us," said John Fowler, the county's economic development director. "This is the perfect re-use of Castle and we think this will have a very significant impact on Merced County's economy."

The training center is expected to bring in $8 million a year in revenue, county spokeswoman Katie Albertson said. Castle already has a flight-simulator building that was used by the Air Force, Fowler said. He said Alteon is expected to invest nearly $25 million revamping the building and installing a new, Canadian-built simulator.

Pilots from across the world will come to complete seventh-month trainings at the center, which will operate year-round, six days a week, 20 hours a day, Fowler said.

Sierra and Alteon inked the deal to come to Merced last month, working with Federal Development, LLC, a private, Washington, D.C.-based company that manages Castle.

Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or creilly@mercedsun-star.com.

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