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Maintenance facility provides a lift

Fri., May 15, 2009

Cascade Aerospace brings 60 jobs, possibilities for expansion

There were supposed to be two planes in the Cascade Aerospace USA Inc. hangar at Spokane International Airport for a Thursday afternoon dedication ceremony. But workers finished the maintenance checks on one of those planes early, and out the door it went.

“It’s more important to get the product back in the hands of the customer,” Cascade President Bret Burnside said after thanking a crowd of Spokane government officials, business leaders and the 60 employees gathered in what had been a Washington National Guard helicopter hangar.

The 35,000-square-foot box gleamed with $80,000 worth of white paint, part of $4.25 million in improvements made to bring a piece of Cascade to Spokane from Abbotsford, B.C., where it employs 650.

The facility opened in February, and workers have completed four light maintenance checks on Bombardier Q400 planes flown by Lynx Airlines, a Frontier Airlines “feeder.” Another was due later in the day or this morning.

Meanwhile, the company is turning a new Boeing 737 business jet into a flying executive office/suite complete with shower, bedroom, conference room and entertainment electronics. The plane was still clad in its factory-applied green plastic coating.

Greenpoint Technologies, of Bellevue, Wash., is the customer.

“We’ll do a little bit of everything,” said Burnside, who said he first walked through the hangar 11 years ago as he scouted sites for another maintenance company that never got off the ground. Cascade’s negotiations with the airport began in 2005.

In June 2008, the Washington Community Economic Revitalization Board, or CERB, approved a $2 million, 20-year loan that completed financing for overhaul of the hangar after the Guard helicopters were moved to Fairchild Air Force Base.

Burnside said good schools, inexpensive housing, good workers and quality of life brought Cascade to Spokane.

“We opened on time and on budget in February and are already looking at the possibilities of expanding,” he said.

Airport Director Neal Sealock said he will present another loan application to CERB next week. Depending on how much is approved, he said, another 60,000 square feet of hangar space could be constructed to accommodate three more maintenance bays and space for plane painter Associated Painters Inc., of Everett.

The total cost of the improvements would be $8 million.

Burnside said combined maintenance and painting facilities would enhance the marketability of the Spokane operation.

In four or five years, total employment could reach 400 to 500 workers, he said.

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