Layoffs planned at Petaluma plant tied to national drone maker AeroVironment

AeroVironment, a Virginia-based drone manufacturer with facilities in Petaluma, plans to lay off 17 employees there no later than April 25, according to a filing with the state.

On Thursday, the company issued a statement:

“With the recent shifting of U.S. DOD funding away from medium UAS company-owned, company-operated (COCO) operations, AeroVironment made the difficult decision to reduce the number of employees directly operating these sites located outside the U.S., along with some support staff. Approximately 80 employees were impacted across the organization, in both Petaluma, CA, and within our MUAS Field Service Organization.

“The outlook for the rest of AV’s business – including for our MUAS business outside of COCO services – remains strong with the recent selection of AV as one of the providers for FTUAS increment 2 program, and the award of a sale of systems as part of the U.S. Military Aid package to Ukraine.”

Officials said the Petaluma facility has 120 employees. They did not offer other information on the type of jobs being performed by the employees slated for layoffs. The Petaluma reductions wouldn’t be a closure of that plant, the WARN Act notice said.

The announcement comes as the area’s regional economic agency is predicting a rise in manufacturing jobs.

In 2021, AeroVironment acquired Petaluma’s Arcturus UAV, a privately held provider of unmanned aircraft systems and services, for $405 million, including $355 million in cash and $50 million in AeroVironment stock. Founded in 2004, Arcturus had about 270 employees at the time.

Some of AeroVironment’s drones are being used in Ukraine in it defense against Russia. AeroVironment is also the maker of the helicopter being used by NASA on Mars.

On March 6, the publicly traded drone maker reported a loss of $676,000 for the third quarter, but it was in the black for the same period last year.

Revenues for this period were $134.4 million. AeroVironment expects annual revenues to range between $510 million and $525 million.

AeroVironment continues to be a favorite vendor of the federal government, which is a key reason the company moved its headquarters in 2021 from Southern California to be closer to the Washington, D.C., area.

It was announced this month that the Army selected AeroVironment’s Jump 20 medium unmanned aircraft system to enter Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) Program Increment 2. AeroVironment is the only company to secure an award for all FTUAS program increments. Jump 20 was originally developed by Arcturus.

The company late last year was awarded an $86.4 million contract from the Army for work on the Puma long endurance and RQ-20B all environment unmanned aircraft systems.

AeroVironment’s website describes the Puma AE RQ-20B as “a fully waterproof, small, unmanned aircraft system designed for land and maritime operations.” It can be controlled manually or through a GPS-based autonomous navigation system.

Last summer AeroVironment signed a $20.6 million deal with the Army for Switchblade 300 tactical missile systems.

Despite the loss of jobs for this company, according to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, the manufacturing sector in the county is predicted to grow 11.2% from 2022-25, compared with 12.2% for the U.S.

Locally, the forecast is for an increase of 91 manufacturing jobs in that time frame, from 812 to 903.

The economic board reports the gross regional product for manufacturing industry in Sonoma County for 2021 was $5.8 billion. It has been on an upward trajectory most years since 2012, when gross regional product was $3 billion.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a statement from the company about the layoffs.

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