San Bernardino Airport Grows

San Bernardino International Airport is about to awaken.

An aircraft maintenance company has located in a portion of the airport's largest hangar and is rapidly hiring employes to convert a Boeing 727-200 aircraft from passenger to cargo use. Photo Gallery: New life for passenger jets So Cal Precision Aircraft Inc. recently moved to SBIA from the Mojave East Kern Airport. The company recently received FAA certification to perform major maintenance and modification work.

The company has hired 42 employees and is continuing to look for more, said Greg Albert, president and founder.

So Cal Precision is nearing completion of negotiations for future work on up to 14 Boeing 747s for a start-up airline. If a contract is signed, So Cal Precision would likely have about 300 employees in a year, Albert said.

Don Rogers, interim executive director of San Bernardino International Airport, said So Cal Precision is the first major new aircraft-related business to locate at SBIA since the new $36 million runway was completed in October 2005.

Replacing the jobs lost when the Air Force closed Norton Air Force Base in 1994 has been the focus of the SBIA authority and its sister agency, the Inland Valley Development Agency.

About $6 million has been spent on roofing, electrical repairs and a sprinkler system at the airport's central hangar complex.

"Obtaining the FAA Part 145 repair station certificate is a major accomplishment which opens up many opportunities for us," said Scot Spencer, manager of SBD Aircraft Services LLC, which has a long-term lease for development of hangar space at the central hangar complex.

So Cal Precision is one of SBD's tenants.

Spencer said his company has missed several opportunities to bring aircraft storage customers to SBIA because it didn't have an operator licensed to do major aircraft repair work.

Airlines and aircraft leasing companies want licensed personnel handling their planes, even if that license is not required by the FAA, Spencer said.

Spencer and Albert say there will be a synergistic relationship between So Cal Precision and AeroPro, which does aircraft painting in another portion of the same 653,000-square-foot-hangar.

Albert said he has come to the right place at the right time.

SBIA is well-positioned for aircraft maintenance and modification work because it is so near Los Angeles and Ontario International airports, he said.

It is one of the few locations in the West with a hangar large enough to enclose a Boeing 747. It could actually accommodate three.

"Right now the name of the game is to try and utilize what exists," he said.

While major airlines are buying new planes, cargo companies and foreign-base operators are buying used as the industry absorbs aircraft placed into storage following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Boeing 727 Albert's company is converting to cargo use will see service on runs between Europe and Nigeria, Albert said.

Among other major work on what may become a $3 million job, is the replacement of the aircraft's three jet engines, cutting a cargo door and installing a rail system in the plane to move cargo.

Seats have already been removed.

While working on the conversion, So Cal Precision will do a major overhaul, which includes replacing rivets throughout the aircraft.

So Cal Precision would like to start adding winglets to commercial aircraft, which would boost their fuel efficiency and lift, Albert said.

This is another hot segment of the aircraft maintenance business, he said.

Albert said he would be reluctant to expand the business beyond 300 employees. Growing too large and increasing fixed expense was the pitfall that collapsed AAS Aircraft Services in 2000.

At one time ASS employed about 600 in the same hangar complex that So Cal Precision now leases. But AAS leased the entire facility, not just a portion of it.

Santa Barbara Aerospace, another aircraft maintenance company also operating in the same hangar, failed in 1999.

But its owners were coal mine operators and were not familiar with the aircraft maintenance business, Rogers said.

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