Tucson Is The Place Where Planes Go To Heal

The dry climate cuts down on corrosion and makes it possible to work on planes outdoors. No earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or other natural threats makes it a safe place to store valuable equipment outdoors.


"Everybody else is losing money," he said of the post- 9/11 aircraft industry. "Our niche," he says, are "countries that are industrializing because of oil and gas and finding it's cheaper to connect their cities through air taxies rather than roads.

"Venezuela has 25-cent-a-gallon gas," he said.

In some cases, he's buying U.S. airlines' 737s for a song, under $1 million and often half that, dusting them off and selling them overseas for half again as much. These airliners, he said, will find a new life as flying buses, trucks and freight trains in some parts of the world.

Hamilton Aviation, a longtime Tucson business, went into bankruptcy and was purchased by Global Aircraft in 2002. Global has applied for listing on the American Stock Exchange..

The majority of the company's roughly 300 employees are involved in maintenance and refurbishment of planes. What they're not involved in anymore, is the "Hamilton 500," said mechanic Bob Monbeck.

That's what employees called it when they would race to the bank on payday, fearful that their checks would bounce.

At DunnAir Business Jet Completion Center, they see how the other half lives -- or maybe half of 1 percent of the other half.

So far, the fledgling aircraft-refurbishment business barely takes up a corner of the huge hangar on the west side of Tucson International. A half-dozen planes have come through since work started late last year.

Two are Bombardier Challenger 604s, in for paint jobs and luxury interior makeovers. The planes were originally finished in Tucson, perhaps in this same hangar, before Bombardier closed its completion center last year.

DunnAir business jet center

There is also a Gulfstream corporate jet getting a minor cabin remodeling, and a Boeing 757 that's here to become a flying luxury apartment.

"It's going to have a conference room, bedroom -- a huge bedroom with a shower," says DunnAir spokesman Tim Kanavel.

No, he won't tell you who owns any of them. But, yes, he says, you'd recognize their names.

Last August, Kanavel predicted the company would have 150 employees within a year, and 600 within five years. So far, the company employs 51.

There's a strong market for refitting business jets, even ones that are only a few years old, says Kanavel.

"The sky's the limit," says Kanavel, but mostly, he says, DunnAir is working on relatively modest corporate jets.

Cabinetmaker Jim Doak is one of 41 former Bombardier employees on DunnAir's staff. He was laid off when Bombardier closed its completion plant here last year.

Last week he was installing contoured, tiger-maple veneer cabinetry with gold-plated hardware in one of the Challengers finished here a few years ago.

Bombardier Aerospace

Two years ago Bombardier Aerospace packed its Tucson business-jet completion center operation off to Kansas and Montreal, laying off about 800.

Now Bombardier has 650 employees at its Tucson corporate and regional jet-service center, said General Manager Eric Brammer.

The Tucson facility, on the west side of Tucson International, does maintenance and repair work on Bombardier's CRJ series regional jets -- 50- to 90-seat planes -- and its Learjet, Challenger and Global series corporate jets.

Corporate spokesman Leo Knappen says Bombardier's corporate customers often want to customize the interiors of their business jets after a few years of ownership.

After the two-year warranty period, he said there's no reason a customer has to come to Bombardier for service or modifications.

"The Tucson facility has such a strong reputation among our customers (that) they prefer to go to Tucson," says Knappen.

He said technical jobs at Bombardier's Tucson operation pay $15 to $23 an hour.

Placement rate around 98%

With the local industry doing well, "I'm scratching my head about why my classes aren't full. We have the capability to run three or four classes of 25 (students). Right now we're only doing one class a day," said Stogsdill of PCC.

He says tuition and books for the 19-month A&P program come to about $6,000. The structural-repair technician program takes nine months and costs about $3,200 for books and tuition.

"I have a standing order for 160 (structure and A&P mechanics) from Evergreen right now," says Stogsdill. "And 200 more when they get their new hangar.

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