AAR To Build MRO Facility At Rockford Airport

AAR Corp., an airplane maintenance company based near Chicago O’Hare airport, said Monday it will open a new facility at Chicago Rockford International Airport that will employ about 500 people.

Wood Dale-based AAR is expected to occupy the facility in early 2016.

"This is a monumental economic and workforce development opportunity for (Rockford airport) and the Rockford region," said Mike Dunn, airport executive director.

AAR, a $2 billion company with headquarters in a nondescript office park near Chicago, is the largest such aircraft maintenance company in North America and third-largest in the world, with 6,000 employees in 17 countries.

And Rockford might be known for its high unemployment and other economic challenges, but it's also a little-known aerospace hotbed. The Rockford area is home to about 100 aerospace companies, including UTC Aerospace Systems, Woodward Inc. and B/E Aerospace. Economic development officials estimate there are 6,500 related workers, making it the sixth-highest concentration of aerospace production employment in the United States. Rockford accounts for 80 percent of aerospace employment in Illinois, officials say.

Earlier this year, Boeing Co. considered Rockford for a production plant for its new 777X aircraft, attracted by the city's location and workforce. However, the Chicago-based company ultimately decided to locate the plant near its others in Washington state.

"With this exciting agreement and the new pipeline of aviationmechanics from Rock Valley College, the local landscape has changed," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in a news release. "Rockford has solidified its role as an aerospace giant and businesses across the nation should take notice."

Officials said talks about the new facility were ongoing for more than two years.

The new 200,000 square-foot AAR hanger maintenance facility, which the company will lease at the Rockford airport, will be its seventh. It is expected to operate 24 hours a day and will service wide-body aircraft, both commercial and military.

Governor Pat Quinn announced a $15 million state "investment" to build the new maintenance facility, an effort to create jobs and "drive Illinois' economy forward." The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will provide the company with $600,000 toward training costs for its new employees.

AAR said it needs the facility because it expects "healthy demand for maintenance of next-generation aircraft in North America." David Storch, AAR's CEO said "AAR's investment in Rockford would not be possible without the economic incentives provided by the state of Illinois, which we are proud to call home."

Construction is expected to begin within the year, officials said. The hangar will be located in the mid-field area of the airport and is expected to open in the spring of 2016.

Shares of AAR Corp. rose 40 cents to reach $27.72 in midday trading.

gkarp@tribune.com

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