A company that flies and maintains tankers that fight wildfires around the country will make its new home at Spokane International Airport.
Aero-Flite Inc. will move four airplanes from Arizona to an industrial park on Spokane’s West Plains and create 50 local jobs.
Airport officials and Gov. Jay Inslee are to announce the development this morning. The company will base the tankers there, performing maintenance on them during the firefighting “offseason” from November to March, then begin working to put out wildfires in the Southeast for the U.S. Forest Service and slowly move west and north with warmer, drier weather. During firefighting season, Spokane will be a repair and operations base for the planes.
The planes were used extensively last summer in the Pacific Northwest and California, including the Carlton Complex fires and others in Central Washington.
Company officials expect to bring 17 mechanics and five management personnel with them, and will be hiring additional mechanics and some pilots, said Todd Woodard, a spokesman for the airport.
“They chose Spokane because of the highly trained and qualified workforce for mechanics and technicians,” he said. The company will bring three Avro RJ85s, regional commercial jets that have been retrofitted with external tanks for fire retardant and water, and one amphibious Bombardier CL-415, a high-wing turboprop that can scoop water out of a lake or other large body of water and mix it with retardant in flight before dropping it on a fire.
Aero-Flite, which will pay $170,000 a year to the airport for rent, will occupy a building previously used by the Washington National Guard as a hangar for its search-and-rescue helicopters and offices for its military units before it relocated in 2006, said Larry Krauter, the airport chief executive officer. The 50,000-square-foot building is west of the hangars used by companies that paint aircraft.
Aero-Flite bills itself as the largest private operator of water-scooping aircraft in North America. It was founded in 1963 and is owned by Conair Group Inc., a Canadian aerospace company based in Abbotsford, B.C. Relocating from Kingman, Arizona, to Spokane brings the company closer to its corporate headquarters, Krauter said. The airport has leased facilities to Conair in the past for other operations.
Inslee will be on hand for the announcement, and Alex Pietsch, director of the governor’s aerospace office, said the Aero-Flite relocation is in line with the state’s strategy to expand aerospace jobs. A key goal now that Boeing has committed to expand in the Puget Sound is to diversify beyond commercial aircraft production and increase the number of maintenance, repair and operations, or MRO, companies, Pietsch said.
“That’s a niche Spokane has, and can continue to grow,” he said. The state also has MRO companies in Everett and Moses Lake.
“It’s a huge win, and I think it’s an opportunity for the state to grow its place in that area,” Pietsch said.
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