Nestled in the hardwood trees on Duluth International Airport, this Minnesota maintenance facility first occupied by the former Northwest Airlines in 1996 is now the fifth heavy maintenance location in the AAR Aircraft Services network. AAR started exploring Duluth as an option to expand its MRO network in the spring of 2011 looking at different locations for different types of work. The Duluth facility was being considered for narrow body heavy maintenance, while other locations were considered for different airframe types.
Danny Martinez, AAR vice president technical services, says, “The first step was to go out there and see what types of facilities and locations were available. Once identified, the bigger question became which locations have the best talent pool. There are many unused aircraft maintenance facilities across the United States but not all have talent to support them. The facility is certainly important but we were looking for a stable experience talent pool.”
According to Martinez the reasons behind expanding into a fifth facility were twofold; to provide an additional location customers can count on for steady nose-to-tail heavy check work, and to provide the ability to level-load across their existing MRO network. Martinez shares, “We were not sure what the work would be but we were confident the work would come. Customers know enough about our company to trust us. We were looking for at least one tier-one customer to build a long-term relationship with here in Duluth.”
AAR worked directly with the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA), the owner of the facility. DEDA is in the business of developing the local economy and Martinez feels that working with one entity really simplified the process. Once selected, AAR moved rapidly. The building lease was signed in July 2012, the facility received its FAA Repair Station Certificate on Sept. 27, 2012, and the first aircraft induction was two months later.
Martinez comments, the FAA repair station certification went very well and everyone was pleased with the process. He says, “All baseline processes from their 1MRO network were easily brought forward to Duluth. The 1MRO concept employed across the entire AAR MRO network showed the FAA we had best-practices processes in place even though the facility was rather empty.”
The talent pool
The first task was getting the critical mass of technicians in the door and the focus was hiring experienced A&Ps. Early in the process a job fair was held which resulted in approximately 600 inquiries or resumes, many from local people with the type of aircraft maintenance experience needed. At the time of my visit, the Duluth facility was staffed to 130 employees. Direct employees make up the majority of the workforce. Approximately 80 percent of the current workforce is former airline employees. From AMTs to senior management positions Martinez feels these former airline employees have brought an immediate credibility to the workforce. He also shares the reception by the AMTs has been great and he sees many long-time relationships between employees. Martinez says, “This first group of people has been a joy to work with, many are coming back home to the area, and everyone seems happy to be here.”
Bill Armold, one of the many former airline employees, shares he was away from aviation for seven years but wanted to stay in northern Minnesota. Armold says, “I’m very happy to be back working on aircraft in the same facility I worked in for many years.” Dave Ruvskanen says, “I started working as an AMT for Great Lakes Airlines right here in Duluth, moved to the Seattle area to work for an MRO and really liked the work, but wanted to come back to the area. Eventually I moved back and worked for Cirrus Aircraft for 13 years. I was thrilled to see an MRO move into the facility.”
This success marks a major milestone for AAR's newest aircraft maintenance facility, which commenced operations last month, and sets the stage for the company’s next phase of growth in Duluth.
AAR representatives will be in Duluth from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to talk to applicants and accept resumes for managerial and leadership positions.
The Lake Charles MRO has now received its own operating certificate bringing the total number of FAA-certified AAR repair stations to 14.
Industry leader to expand support for commercial airline customer