It has now been more than a decade since C&L Aviation moved its headquarters nearly 10,000 miles from Australia to Bangor.
And while CEO Chris Kilgour acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a bump in the road after years of growth, it isn’t stopping the aircraft maintenance company from completing several new projects that will expand its footprint in Bangor and potentially grow its pipeline of future employees.
C&L purchased four acres of city-owned land at 395 Griffin Rd. last year, along with the former Spectacular Event Center building. It has since converted that building into a repair shop for aircraft components, complete with paint booths and equipment for engine inspections. It has also finished building a 27,000-square-foot warehouse on the property for parts that don’t fit in its primary storage space at Bangor International Airport.
The company based at Bangor International Airport, which repairs and converts private aircraft owned by businesses and individuals, also has two new projects under construction at the airport. A 12,000-square-foot building where C&L mechanics will repair aircraft interiors will be up and running sometime in the summer. And a 5,000-square-foot addition to one of its four hangars at the airport will likely be complete by the end of May.
Kilgour, a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, had lived in Australia for two decades when he relocated C&L from that country to Bangor in 2010. The company’s sales have since grown sixfold, reaching $90 million in 2019.
Yet the COVID-19 pandemic drove 2020 sales down 25 percent from 2019 figures, Kilgour said. While fears of commercial air travel during the pandemic led to increased private jet use among those with the means for it, Kilgour said, that has translated into fewer aircraft maintenance jobs for the company, as aircraft owners are using their private planes rather than grounding them for maintenance.
C&L currently has more than 180 employees, Kilgour said. That’s more people than the company had on staff in 2019, but fewer than it had last year.
While 2020 meant a decline in business, it had some bright spots, Kilgour said. With Maine having one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country, C&L was able to continue most in-person operations. It also didn’t see any COVID-19 outbreaks within company walls.
The company will also begin a mechanic apprenticeship program in April. The program will employ apprentices on a full-time basis as they work toward receiving mechanic certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Kilgour has said in recent years that the lack of local programs to train aircraft mechanics had hampered his local recruiting and, potentially, the company’s ability to do business in Bangor. The lack of Maine programs to train aircraft mechanics continues to make growth difficult, Kilgour said, but he believes the apprenticeship program will help.
The company last year also saw a new business line emerge in response to the pandemic. It saw requests to transform commercial aircraft into private planes with fewer seats, so those on board could keep their distance from others and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Invariably, people want that. I just don’t think they’ve been willing to pay the extra money to get it,” Kilgour said. “It may fade a little, but once people get used to it, it’s hard to go back.”
Business has also picked up in recent months as customers prepare for a summer travel season that’s likely to be more robust than last year’s as vaccinations pick up.
Kilgour said he is hoping that 2021 can be a year of renewal for his company as it continues to strive toward its goal of $100 million in sales by 2025.
“I think over the summer, things will just open up around the world, and continue to get better,” he said.