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Air Canada extends contract with AAR Aircraft Services through 2019

Workers, guests and officials attend a news conference at AAR Aircraft Services on Tuesday morning to mark the maintenance base’s work on its 100th Air Canada jet, an A319 Airbus seen at top. (Bob King /

AAR Aircraft Services has enough work at its Duluth maintenance base to stay busy through at least 2019.

That was assured Tuesday when officials with AAR and Air Canada signed a new five-year contract that extends AAR’s servicing of Air Canada jets another two years with options to renew it.

The previous contract was from 2012 to 2017.

And, by the way officials were talking, it could be a much longer partnership.

“We are here for the long term,” AAR’s Dany Kleiman told company officials, city leaders, AAR employees and the media who gathered at the base to celebrate the completion of the 100th Air Canada jet serviced, and were then treated to the bonus contract signing.

Greg Dellinger, AAR’s government relations director, said that with a skilled workforce in place and a good facility, they’re prepared for a “multi-decade” operation in Duluth.

That means hundreds of AAR jobs will stay in Duluth for years to come. AAR’s annual state economic impact, estimated at $47 million, will continue. And Duluth’s aviation sector will continue to grow.

The new contract with Air Canada extending to 2019, however, exceeds AAR’s lease with the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

The five-year lease with DEDA — which owns the 188,000-square-foot facility, the former Northwest Airlines maintenance base — runs out in 2017. But it has built-in options to renew in five-year increments up to 25 years, said Chris Eng, DEDA’s executive director.

No problem. DEDA would be happy to renew the lease, again and again, he said.

AAR’s contacts with Air Canada call for AAR to do the industry-required servicing of Air Canada’s fleet of Airbus A319, A320 and A321 series passenger jets. That alone will bring the facility to full capacity — four maintenance lines and about 360 employees.

They’re getting close to that.

In just 1½ years since the Illinois-based company reopened the vacated facility near the Duluth International Airport, AAR has created 305 jobs and has three maintenance lines going. The company plans to launch the fourth line in September and is looking to hire 55 more people. Most jobs are for licensed aircraft mechanics.

AAR has five other maintenance, repair and overhaul bases — or MROs — around the country, servicing big commercial jets.

Will Beecroft, 28, of Duluth was one of the aircraft mechanics hired in Duluth last year.

“It’s fun; it’s decent pay,” he said of the job.

Beecroft previously worked at Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth before being laid off in 2009. A job servicing Federal Express planes followed. As for the Air Canada Airbus jets, they’re the biggest planes he’s ever worked on. And he likes that.

“The bigger the plane, the more the problems. And the more the problems, the more you get to fix,” he said.

About one-third of AAR’s Duluth workforce are contract workers rather than direct employees, said Jenny Sage, AAR’s human resources manager in Duluth. But the goal is to lower that to 25 percent.

“We’re striving for that all the time,” she said. “We have a significant number of contract workers who go from contract to direct. So that has been popular.”

Byron Sonnier, 55, an aircraft mechanic from Lake Charles, La., is among the AAR contract workers who could become a direct employee after 90 days on the job.

“I think AAR is probably is one of the best MROs around,” Sonnier said, noting that AAR keeps supplies and parts well stocked and treats people well.

While he said he hopes to roll over to being a regular employee, his ultimate goal is to later transfer to AAR’s newest maintenance base just starting up back home in Louisiana. He had worked at that base under previous owners.

“If it wouldn’t be so cold, I’d like to stay here,” he said of Duluth.