The north end of the Coeur d’Alene Airport was vacant land a decade ago. Today, it’s home to a growing empire.
Empire Airlines is a FedEx feeder carrier with a fleet of 52 planes operating in 16 states. Empire also ran a commuter airline between Coeur d’Alene and Boise for 11 years in the 1980s and ’90s.
The lesser-known but faster-growing division is Empire Aerospace, which performs heavy maintenance on regional-sized turboprop planes, such as the 76-seaters flown by Horizon Airlines.
Empire can fit four of these planes into its hangar. It has 120 employees plus about 40 contract mechanics working two shifts, seven days a week. That’s nearly four times the number of workers Empire Aerospace began with in 2004, said Empire Airlines President and CEO Timothy Komberec.
The jobs pay well, starting around $40,000 and exceeding $80,000 a year, depending on skills and experience, he said.
“It’s a pretty competitive market, nationwide and in North America. So we’ve kind of stuck to a niche where we think we can be really good at this,” Komberec said.
Horizon Airlines is one of Empire’s biggest customers; most recently its green-and-yellow Oregon Ducks plane was in the shop. Canadian operators also account for a good share of the business.
Some are passenger planes, some haul freight and some run special missions, such as government surveillance work.
They fly in every few years for scheduled overhauls in a 30,000-square-foot maintenance area. Crews tear down the planes inside and out, perform intensive inspections and repairs, and clear them for return to service.
“It is a precision business,” Komberec said.
Coeur d’Alene Airport, owned and managed by Kootenai County, has invested millions of dollars in improvements in recent years, including a taxiway linking Empire’s hangar to the all-weather runway.
“This resource here is unbelievable,” Komberec said of the airport used for general aviation and corporate planes. “It’s a real jewel for this community.”
There is ample room for dozens more companies to locate there, he said.
“What excites me is all the other aviation or aerospace-related businesses we can have out here creating jobs,” he said.