DEDA signs off on plan to bring F-16s to Duluth maintenance base

The facility's ample space, systems and proximity to the 148th Fighter Wing all sharpened distant companies' interest in coming to Duluth.

An F-16 fighter jet takes off from Duluth International Airport in January 2009. (File / News Tribune)

Now the waiting begins.

If Utah-based Borsight Inc. is successful in its bid to land a major contract to service the U.S. Air Force's fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons, as many as 100 jobs could land in Duluth.

At a special meeting of the Duluth Economic Development Authority on Thursday afternoon, commissioners unanimously agreed to lease space inside a commercial aircraft maintenance base to Borsight if it wins a contract that's expected to be awarded by year's end.

The base was recently vacated by AAR —an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul company — which picked up stakes as the COVID-19 pandemic sent the airline industry into a tailspin. The business had employed about 350 people the previous year.

Should Borsight succeed in its bid to service F-16s in Duluth, the company would incrementally expand its operations within the local maintenance base, eventually paying $124,825 per month for the run of the place.


Borsight has partnered with the Brussels-based SABCA Group , another major aerospace player, to seek a federal contract that could top out at as high as $900 million, according to a press release.

Chris Fleege, Duluth's director of planning and economic development, said a SABCA representative initially contacted him about the prospect of leasing the maintenance base.

"At first, I was a little skeptical, because the fellow was speaking in kind of broken English, and I was like, 'Really?' But after a little while, I could tell he was legit," Fleege said.

Apparently SABCA staff had toured the Duluth facility a couple years ago, as guests of APEX — short for Area Partnership for Economic Expansion — and while in town, they also called on the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard.

Given AAR's recent departure from the maintenance base, Fleege referred to the "perfect timing" of SABCA and Borsight's interest.

Borsight CEO Brad Bullard sat in on DEDA's online meeting Thursday.

According to Fleege, "He (Bullard) said that he really felt like this facility could significantly improve their chances, and they think they had a good chance anyway. But he thinks this is perfect, because you're right next to the 148th. So, a lot of the military things that they need access to are there."

Borsight and SABCA have until March to exercise their option to lease the Duluth maintenance base.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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