State Assists In Financing Repair Facility at Spokane Airport

Two companies sharing a cramped repair building at Spokane International Airport will move to a new facility next year thanks to a $1.7 million deal arranged with Washington state officials.

The money will build an airplane repair and maintenance facility at the airport for Empire Airlines Inc. and for Absolute Aviation Services.

Empire, which is based in Coeur d'Alene, performs maintenance work on some of the company's growing air cargo fleet at its Spokane location. Absolute Aviation repairs airplane instruments and components.

The building they share is one of seven the airport must demolish by July 1, 2007. The federal government requires the change based on line-of-sight restrictions air traffic controllers will have once the new airport control tower goes into operation.

The state approved a low-interest $750,000 loan and a $250,000 grant through the Washington Community Economic Revitalization Board. The Spokane airport will have 20 years to repay the loan, airport spokesman Todd Woodard said.

The airport also is adding about $700,000 of its own money to construct the facility, which will total close to 18,000 square feet.

"We'll start work in August on the project so they can move into the new building by June of 2007," Woodard said.

State officials approved the project because the expansion means both companies can remain in Spokane during anticipated periods of growth.

Absolute Aviation expects to see its 11-worker group at the airport expand to 26 in the next five years. Empire's Spokane group, numbering 21 now, could grow to 46, the company has said.

Absolute's new jobs will pay between $21,000 and $42,000 while the workers Empire expects to add in Spokane will make between $28,000 and $45,000, according to an application submitted to the state.

The airport's plan is to lease the new $1.7 million facility to both companies. The new hangar will be southwest of the companies' current building on Pilot Drive, near the airport's new Taxiway G.

The new facility will be north of the new XN Aviation maintenance hangar, which was approved and built last year with similar funding arranged by the airport and the state.

The airport contribution of $700,000 will come from money collected from concessions, parking and other general revenue, Woodard said.

The financing also ensures that Empire's Spokane repair group -- which works on the airline's Caravan cargo aircraft -- stays in Washington rather than relocating to Idaho.

Two years ago Empire Airlines moved the bulk of its aircraft operations, along with more than 40 workers, from Spokane to Coeur d'Alene. Company officials said the decision was based on a slightly better deal arranged by Idaho and Kootenai County.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

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