BANGOR, Maine — Since taking a gamble and expanding into one of the northeastern-most airports on the map, it’s been coming up aces for a man from Down Under.
So much so that Chris Kilgour has reorganized his international aircraft parts, service, leasing, storage and repair service to make Bangor his company’s prime facility worldwide.
“It made sense for us because we had the facility and there are a lot of good people here. I find that the work ethic of people in Maine is really good,” said Kilgour, CEO of C&L Aerospace, a 16-year-old airplane parts and maintenance company. “Quite honestly, it was a big bite for us to chew and take on this place, so I hadn’t really thought about further expansion.”
But now he and his 60 employees have some more figuring to do as the 40,000-square-foot facility at the former Telford Aviation hangar and offices at 189 Odlin Road is literally bursting at the seams, making expansion not only thinkable but necessary.
“We’ve basically become self-sufficient over the last year where we can provide all the services, parts and material we need,” said Kilgour.
Kilgour started in the aviation business 22 years ago by selling wheels for F-111 fighter-bombers to the Australian Air Force after his tuna fishing business in the Solomon Islands failed. Now he’s selling and leasing everything from $700,000 jet engines to 10-cent washers.
The projected $3 million expansion will also mean the creation of about 40 more jobs for a company that currently boasts 100 corporate contracts.
“This is exactly the type of economic development initiative the City Council looks for, so councilors are very pleased that C&L is finding success here in Bangor,” said Tanya Pereira, Bangor’s economic development specialist. “The council seems very excited to have the opportunity to assist with a project like this that grows quality jobs in Bangor.”
Kilgour is working with Bangor city officials and staff members to expand his facility’s hangar, office and storage space by 33 percent with another 20,000 square feet.
“I’ve noticed other states offer a lot and so far with Maine, we really haven’t had a lot of success,” Kilgour said. “We’re creating jobs here so there should be some help for us somewhere.”
There is, according to Pereira.
“We’re discussing possible options and ways the city might be able to help, with possibilities including TIFs [Tax Increment Financing] and connecting with additional financing options that could involve the city or Bangor International Airport,” Pereira said.
The expansion would allow C&L to work on larger aircraft. Presently, much of C&L’s work is done with and on smaller commuter airplanes like the Saab 340 33-seater. The largest planes C&L can handle are 50- to 70-seat models.
“This is a 15,000-square-foot hangar and we can work on as many as three at once in here and one in our smaller hangar,” Kilgour said. “With the expansion, we can handle up to 170-seat planes like a Boeing 737.”
Pereira said city officials are looking to work out details on how best to help and accommodate C&L’s expansion, which is targeted to start in the spring, over the next few months.
“It was just a good marriage that was waiting to come together,” Kilgour said. “We saw it as a good add-on to what we do because the parts we were selling were for aircraft they were already working on here.”
In the last 18 months of operation, C&L kept 22 former Telford employees and went from a 25-employee payroll to 60. It has also reorganized its entire network, which includes facilities in London, Brisbane, California, Romania and Maine.
“It wasn’t cheap to move everything over and it would be quicker and cheaper to ship things in a more populace area, but it saves us on maintenance and helps us in regard to utilizing the European market,” said the 42-year-old Kilgour. “We had a large facility in California where we warehoused many of our parts, so we actually reduced its size down to an office of just four people and moved the entire warehouse here to Bangor.”
He also moved wife Kym and their four children — ages 6, 11, 15 and 17 — from Brisbane, Australia, to Hampden.
“Initially we were only coming here for a year, but a year and a half we’re still here,” said Kilgour. “The younger kids loved the idea, but the older ones weren’t too happy about it at first, but it’s a bit of an anomaly as far as Australians coming to Bangor at school, so they’re enjoying it now.”
Chad Jones is also enjoying things now. The Norridgewock native now living in Orrington with his family is one of the 22 former Telford employees rescued from unemployment and now working for C&L.
“This can be an up and down business, but it’s exciting to have a CEO who’s anxious to go out there and find work and bring it in,” said Jones, a production control manager. “Most of the mechanics enjoy their work here. As long as we have work and we’re busy, everybody’s pretty happy.”
Kilgour’s acquisition of Telford’s maintenance facilities has had other unexpected benefits. Two C&L employees working outside Maine have been able to come back to work at home, and Kilgour expects more such stories with the expansion.
“There’s a lot of aviation experience here in Maine and we’re finding there are a lot of qualified people whose families live here while they are working away,” said Kilgour. “In the aviation industry, you go where the work is, and we’ve brought a few families together by hiring them.”