BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor-based company that overhauls aircraft expects its latest expansion could allow it to more than double its workforce.
C&L Aviation Group had just 20 employees in 2010, when CEO Chris Kilgour purchased the maintenance portion of Telford Aviation Services and relocated his company’s headquarters from Australia to Bangor.
Today, its ranks have swelled to around 160 mechanics, painters, upholsterers and others who play a part in repairing or overhauling regional and corporate aircraft.
And now, thanks to a $2.48 million local and federal investment, Kilgour said he could add as many as 200 more employees over the next few years.
“It’s a great example of public-private sector cooperation,” Kilgour said during a tour of the facility Monday. “We’ve delivered what we said we would, and we’ve received support because of it.”
Last month, the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced a slate of grants to Maine industries with the goal of boosting the economy in the wake of recent mill closures. Among the awards was about $1.24 million to help C&L expand. The grant came with the requirement that the city match the $1.24 million investment.
The city, which owns the airport buildings that C&L operates in, applied for the EDA grant on the company’s behalf.
During a meeting Monday night, the Bangor City Council voted to accept the federal grant and approved the details of an agreement that would allow C&L to move forward with its expansion. As part of that deal, C&L will cover the bulk of the $1.2 million match, with the city pitching in $310,000 for specific parts of the project.
“They’ve been a great corporate citizen, a great corporate partner to work with,” Councilor Joe Baldacci said during Monday’s meeting.
Kilgour said the $2.5 million will fund a series of improvements to the facility. C&L, which currently has a trio of renovated hangars, would overhaul a fourth vacant hangar nearby into a space for refurbishing corporate jets. C&L also will construct a new building connecting its new hangar with the aircraft-painting hangar, part of another expansion completed in 2014. The new addition will be used primarily for storage, opening up room to service more aircraft, Kilgour said.
“This is a case of us needing to be bigger because all of the work we’ve got,” Kilgour said.
Currently the company works with 60 to 80 aircraft per year, doing everything from minor maintenance work to complete overhauls in which planes are gutted, refitted and repainted, Kilgour said.
C&L also will install new siding on the aging hangars to improve their energy efficiency and looks.
Kilgour said C&L faces another hurdle as it pushes toward its expansion — finding qualified aviation mechanics to work on the planes. Before renovations even start, the company already has openings for 30 to 50 additional mechanics, but people with a background in aircraft maintenance and repair are hard to find.
C&L is working with the University of Maine at Augusta to develop a two-year program in aircraft repair to train new workers, but it will take several years to organize and launch such a program and put the first graduates through.
The expansion is set to launch this winter, when some smaller-scale improvements start. The more noticeable changes will start in the spring, according to Kilgour.
“We’ve got a nice little complex here now,” Kilgour said. “Every service is available in one place, and that’s what our customers want.”
The new hangar is the latest addition in what has been a growing footprint at the airport since C&L’s move to Bangor. In 2014, C&L completed a $5 million headquarters expansion that tripled the company’s space and later that summer added an aircraft-painting hangar. That expansion was partially funded by an EDA grant.
“In my mind, this is an incredible example of a public private partnership,” Tanya Emery, Bangor’s economic development director, said Tuesday. “C&L demonstrates how one of Bangor’s competitive advantages can be strategically used to grow jobs and investment. The city has been pleased to work with our Federal delegation so closely in assisting this business.”
With these investments, Kilgour said he expects Bangor to serve as C&L’s long-term home base.
In the future, Kilgour said he may consider adding to the company’s footprint at Bangor International Airport or might look to other U.S. markets for future expansions.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.