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Promising Horizons

Empire Aerospace employee, Sunny Webb, leaves the cockpit of a Q400.  
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Empire Aerospace employee, Sunny Webb, leaves the cockpit of a Q400. (The Spokesman-Review)

A North Idaho aircraft maintenance company has landed a yearlong contract to modify and upgrade 31 Horizon Air-owned Q400 turboprop airplanes.

Work will be completed within the former Air National Guard Hangar at Spokane International Airport, Horizon officials said.

Empire Aerospace of Hayden won the contract, expected to be worth upwards of $600,000, said Rob Reuling, Horizon’s senior manager of line maintenance.

Tom Hamilton, general manager of Empire Aerospace, said an estimated 22 aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians, 10 of whom will be new hires, will be needed to complete the work, which began Saturday.

“This is our first contract with Horizon. They’re a phenomenal company and we’re just delighted to be doing this work for them,” Hamilton said.

Horizon’s aircraft experts will oversee the project. In all, modifications are expected to take at least six months to complete. Horizon signed a one-year renewable lease to rent the 35,000-square-foot hangar and will decide after this job is done whether to continue to use the facility for other jobs.

“We love the facility. It’s going to work out really well for us,” said Reuling of the 1934-era hangar.

Empire will be upgrading Horizon’s fleet of Bombardier Q400s, dubbed Dash 8s, produced by Bombardier Aerospace of Canada.

The distinctive-looking airplanes feature high wings. They’re known for regional travel, with cruising speeds of more than 400 miles per hour and flying heights of 25,000 feet, where the air is usually smoother.

In the project’s first phase, federally licensed mechanics will make modifications to the frames of 18 airplanes, which are about four-and-a-half-years-old. “It’s more rivets-and-sheet-metal kind of work,” Hamilton said.

In phase two, the 18 older planes and 13 new ones, will be outfitted with the latest electronics, including real-time, satellite weather receivers in the cockpits, which will require more avionics technicians, Hamilton said.

Additionally some of aircraft will be receiving cosmetic improvements. Some galleys will be altered, a forward baggage closet will be removed, two more seats will be added so all planes have room for 76 passengers, and new carpet and armrests will be installed.

Randy Barcus, chief economist at Avista Corp., said the project should have a $1 million economic impact on the region. Completing a project like this in Spokane is cost-effective, he said.

“As competitors, like Oakland, have filled up and gotten more expensive, it’s worked to Spokane’s advantage,” Barcus said.

Hamilton said he’s pleased Empire, a 30-year-old Idaho company, snared the job.

“We’d like this to be the beginning of a long-term relationship with Horizon,” said Hamilton. “We always considered them to be a prime customer for our heavy maintenance division. We think we’ll complement each other well.”