Duluth airport maintenance base to open by DecemberAAR Aircraft Services announced Monday that its new Duluth aircraft maintenance base will be operational by December, with its first customer and a start-up crew of about 60.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
AAR Aircraft Services announced Monday that its new Duluth aircraft maintenance base will be operational by December, with its first customer and a start-up crew of about 60.
Company officials aren’t saying who that launch customer is, but a banner inside the 80,000-square-foot-hangar gives it away.
“The City of Duluth and AAR Welcome Air Canada,” it says.
Greg Dellinger, AAR’s director of recruiting, said they are “very, very close” to a deal with the customer.
AAR also announced Monday that it has received FAA certification to open a base in the former Northwest Airlines maintenance base.
“It is a very significant milestone for the company,” Dellinger said, adding that it allows the company to move forward with its plans for the site. The certification process is a detailed accounting of every facet of the company’s planned operations to service heavy airline jets in Duluth, said Brian Hanson, CEO of Area Partnership for Economic Expansion based in Duluth.
“The FAA wants to know it’s a first-class operation,” he said.
AAR, the leading North American provider of maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) services for commercial airlines, also has bases in Indianapolis, Miami, Oklahoma City and Hot Springs, Ark.
About 60 employees are needed for the first of four lines of jet maintenance planned for Duluth. So far, 40 managers and mechanics have been hired, with 30 on site, working full time or in training.
Among them is Glen Cohoon, an aviation maintenance technician who is part of a group completing training at the base.
Cohoon, 54, is from North Carolina but recently returned to the United States after 11 years working as a consultant to the Saudi Air Force. His 35 years of aviation experience includes jobs at other airplane maintenance bases, including AAR’s base in Oklahoma City in the late 1980s.
Tired of the heat of the South and Middle East, Cohoon was eager to move to a colder climate.
“I had been keeping an eye on it through aviation magazines for 1½ years,” he said of AAR’s consideration of Duluth for a base. “I’ve been pursuing this ever since I heard about it.”
In 2011, when AAR was considering several locations, a two-day job fair was held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to prove that Duluth could produce the skilled workers it needed. Nearly 700 applicants attended the event or applied online.
Cohoon, who is moving to Duluth with his wife and grandson, said he’s flattered to be among the experienced “heavy-hitters” hired first who probably will train those who come later.
“But I have been doing this a long time, and I’m good at what I do,” he said.
For the start-up, AAR is looking for more inspectors and structural mechanics like Cohoon who can work with sheet metal, Dellinger said.
More aircraft maintenance lines — and jobs — will be added as more airline customers sign on, officials said. And that gets easier after the first customer is gotten, they say. AAR expects to reach full capacity within a year, employing about 225 people in jobs that pay $30,000 to $80,000 a year.
“These are great family-sustaining jobs here and in the region,” Hanson emphasized.
But AAR’s attempts to hire former employees of the Northwest Airlines maintenance base have been only “moderately successful,” Dellinger said, because applicants need to be current on their certifications.
The 188,000-square-foot base, built in the 1990s for work on heavy jet aircraft, shut down in 2005.
“The building has been a reminder of the difficulty with Northwest Airlines and the shutdown of the facility,” Hanson said. “Now it will be a beacon with a great AAR sign and activity there.”
Efforts by the city of Duluth and the Duluth Economic Development Authority to maintain the city-owned facility and find a new tenant finally paid off.
When Dellinger first saw it last year he was impressed.
“I was really delighted with how well-maintained it is,” he said. “It was in fantastic condition. Everything was ready to go — foam (fire) suppression system, fuel-handling system, jet-starter system — all that was in place.”
AAR announced its choice of Duluth in April.
“The city of Duluth, through DEDA, invested a lot of money keeping that building up to snuff,” Hanson said. “Now the community can benefit from that.”