Spokane International Airport is on the verge of landing a new employer that specializes in maintenance of Boeing jetliners.
But it would need new facilities, and local officials are preparing to sell $19 million in tax-exempt bonds to pay for construction of a plant that would be leased by Aviation Technical Services, which is based in Everett and has operations in Moses Lake.
ATS would lease the facility and bring part of its growing business to Spokane.
As many as 400 to 500 jobs could be created over the next five years, officials said. Those jobs would pay $45,000 to $52,000 a year. About 80 percent of the jobs will be for mechanics.
“This is a great opportunity for Spokane to bring some top-quality jobs to the Spokane market,” said county Commissioner Al French.
The deal will not be final until the company signs a lease for the proposed plant. The county commissioners are required to hold a public hearing, probably within a month, to finalize the tax-exempt status for bond financing. Tax-exempt bonds carry a lower interest rate, reducing the cost of borrowing.
Local officials view the arrival of ATS as part of a wider effort to expand Spokane’s aerospace industry and provide a base industry to feed other parts of the local economy. The company’s presence in Spokane would stimulate trade for merchants and suppliers in the region, French said.
Spokane is in the running for the new plant partly because of availability of certified aircraft mechanics, French said. Spokane Community College has a leading program in airframe and power plant maintenance. In addition, Fairchild Air Force Base can be a source for mechanics moving from military to civilian careers.
French also said that bringing ATS to Spokane shows that the city is able to compete for large new employers.
ATS was founded in 1970 and is one of the world’s largest providers of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul with about 1,000 employees at its two locations.
The company serves airlines that fly into Spokane as well as airlines that don’t, including JetBlue Airways. Its website says part of its work is on military aircraft as well.
In the past five years, the company has done maintenance on 350 aircraft annually, including Boeing 737s and 757s.
Nicole Allard, ATS spokeswoman, said the company is seeking to expand operations in Washington, but the company is not confirming its interest in Spokane. However, a Seattle Times article in October included comments from the company’s chief executive officer about a package of aerospace incentives being debated by lawmakers and indicated that ATS was in negotiations for a new Spokane site.
On Tuesday, Spokane County commissioners approved a resolution to sell tax-exempt bonds, which are allowed by the federal government for economic development at airports and other locations.
After the financing component is in place, the next step will be to secure a lease with the company which will operate out of the airport-owned facility, said Todd Woodard, airport spokesman.
The company previously had secured an agreement with the Spokane Airport Board not to disclose its identity during talks over expansion into Spokane.
Discussions with ATS date back more than a year, officials said.
The new facility would be built on the southeast side of the main runway, directly across from concourses A and B.
Roy Koegen, a Spokane bond attorney working on the transaction, said he expects the deal to be finalized in the next three months. “I think it is more likely than not,” he said.
The bond sale has won separate approvals from the Airport Board, the Spokane City Council and county commissioners.
However, the financing itself won’t be raised without a lease and commitment by ATS to bring its business here.
The county is planning to sell a package of $35 million in bonds to pay for the ATS facility as well as development of a new animal control facility and repayment of a loan used to reroute the Geiger Spur rail line away from Fairchild Air Force Base property.
The bonds will be secured by the county’s ability to levy taxes, but the actual payments will come from lease revenue.
In a related development, Associated Painters Inc., which operates at the Spokane airport, is expanding its aircraft painting business with a second new hangar, French said. The new business involves painting new Boeing 737s after they roll out of the factory and before they are delivered to airlines, he said.
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