Iowa will get hangar for Mesaba work; The Des Moines hangar will be used for Canadair maintenance.

Aug. 13, 2007

City leaders in Des Moines plan to contribute $4 million to help Mesaba Airlines build an $11.8 million maintenance hangar at Des Moines International Airport.

Mesaba, a subsidiary of Eagan-based Northwest Airlines, announced Tuesday that it plans to use the 75,000-square-foot hangar for overnight maintenance work on 50-seat and 76-seat Canadair Regional Jets (CRJs).

Mesaba is expanding rapidly and will be operating 17 50-seat jets and three dozen 76-seat jets by the end of 2008.

Construction on the hangar is expected to begin later this year. Mesaba estimates that 30 people will be employed in Des Moines.

"It's a good project and a good fit for Northwest and Mesaba Airlines and for Des Moines," said Craig Smith, aviation director at the Des Moines airport.

The Airport Board, which is appointed by the city council and mayor, approved the proposal, which specifies that the city will pay for constructing the hangar shell and will own it, Smith said. Mesaba will pay an estimated $7.8 million for the finishing work, which includes the electrical and heating systems and interior fixtures. Smith anticipates that Mesaba will sign a 20-year lease on the facility.

Mesaba did not name the communities that submitted hangar proposals. Mesaba, which flies regional flights exclusively for Northwest, restructured its costs in bankruptcy. The contract it negotiated with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association pays newly hired mechanics $12.08 to $13.84 per hour, according to an AMFA official.

Mesaba spokeswoman Elizabeth Costello said that most of the maintenance jobs in Des Moines would be held by new hires. Mesaba now employs about 190 AMFA-represented employees. It has mechanics working in its three hubs in the Twin Cities, Detroit and Memphis as well as in two Wisconsin locations.

Mesaba recently gave up its hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, but it still employs about 55 AMFA mechanics and 15 maintenance supervisors in the Twin Cities.

Northwest had a maintenance base in Duluth that it closed at the start of the mechanics strike in 2005, but Northwest spokesman Roman Blahoski said that facility "would be too large and expensive for a smaller regional jet maintenance operation."

Public money was used to construct the Duluth maintenance base for Northwest. The airline reached an agreement in April with the state, city of Duluth and St. Louis County "that provided the state with a general unsecured claim in Northwest's bankruptcy proceedings that satisfied the outstanding state bonds used to finance the construction of the facility," Blahoski said. Minnetonka-based Petters Aviation is interested in leasing the Duluth base from the city.

Liz Fedor - 612-673-7709