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A Bangor company that overhauls private jets — and has received millions in federal and local assistance in recent years — is threatening to expand its business elsewhere if a program to train aircraft mechanics does not open in the region soon.
C&L Aviation Group CEO Chris Kilgour said he is having trouble recruiting new mechanics to handle the company’s recent expansion at Bangor International Airport and blamed a lack of schools in the region that could train new skilled workers.
Without a new training program, C&L “would not grow as fast as we want to and have to get a new facility in a state with a bigger labor pool and grow the business there,” said Kilgour.
“We don’t have a choice. We are already turning away business.”
Kilgour said he’s had conversations with schools in the area, including Eastern Maine Community College, the University of Maine at Augusta’s Bangor campus and United Technologies Center about opening up such a program — which he says would allow the company to double its staff of more than 200 workers.
But those schools’ leaders told the Bangor Daily News they do not have the estimated $2 to $2.5 million needed to start such a program.
City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci on Monday proposed the city fund as much as $2 million to start such a program at one of the schools in an effort to help C&L recruit and train new employees in the region. Other councilors asked for more information about the plan first, including the need for it and examples of similar training programs.
“We’ve got an interest in making the investments that we need to expand the tax base and bring more people here, which jobs are needed to do that,” City Councilor Gibran Graham said Thursday. “I’m not willing to fork out any money without vetting all sides of the situation.”
Thanks largely to nearly $5 million in federal and local funds — including about $3 million from the city, which it is paying back through a 17-year lease — C&L’s staff has grown from 20 to more than 200 since moving from Australia to Bangor International Airport in 2010.
Kilgour said the company does not have the funds to start or support such a program itself, but left open the possibility that he could donate equipment or a plane for students to train with if one were to open.
C&L currently trains employees through its apprenticeship program but can only manage nine unlicensed staffers at a time and the program takes two years to complete, he said.
Kilgour is trying to fill 50 openings and eventually wants to double the company’s staff, he said. Despite a nationwide shortage of aviation mechanics, other communities across the country with training programs nearby have been trying to recruit his company for expansion, he said.
Kilgour did not give a timetable for when a new training program would need to be started by to keep its expansion in Bangor but said since it takes years to train aircraft mechanics, it would need to be “as soon as possible.”