Covering business happenings here for the last 23 years, I've seen many companies' ambitious predictions of workforce expansion fail to materialize, typically due to unforeseeable market shifts, unrealistic expectations, or strategic retrenching.
For that reason, I was skeptical several years ago when British Columbia-based Cascade Aerospace Inc. said it expected to employ several hundred people within five years at a U.S. offshoot aircraft maintenance and modification facility it had opened at Spokane International Airport.
And sure enough, that prediction proved false.
Within a relatively short amount of time, the Cascade Aerospace operation here was sold and reorganized under the name JetTech Aerospace, but that company too ceased operating here a couple of months ago.
However, falling squarely under the idiom that every cloudpardon the attempted aerospace punhas a silver lining, another company has swooped in to take over the Cascade Aerospace/JetTech space at the airport, and it brings with it what seems like a lot of promise.
As the Journal reported in its July 5 issue, Aero-Flite Inc., of Kingman, Ariz., recently garnered a big contract to help provide the U.S. Forest Service with next-generation air tankers for wildfire suppression and plans to set up shop there.
The Spokane Airport Board approved Aero-Flite's assumption of a leasing and operating agreement last held by JetTech for most of an airport-owned, 70,000-square-foot facility formerly referred to as the old Guard hangar.
Aero-Flite probably will employ "40-plus" people here, an executive familiar with the company's plans here told the Journal. That's a far cry from the hundreds of people Cascade Aerospace boasted it would employ here, but it comes across as much more realistic.
Plus, Aero-Flite's plan to open a facility here keeps the big hangar space at the Spokane airport from potentially going dark, and it preserves a substantial public investment there.
Partly to make needed upgrades to the hangar, Cascade Aerospace earlier had secured a $2 million Washington state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) financing package that included a $500,000 grant and a $1.5 million, 20-year loan at a 1 percent interest rate. Aero-Flite agreed to take over that loan repayment commitment. It also agreed to accept all other terms and conditions of the JetTech lease and operating agreement, which lasts through Jan. 31, 2029.
The work that Aero-Flite will be doing there initially is exciting. Its contract with the U.S. Forest Service calls for it to provide to that federal agency next year a British-built, four-engine Avro RJ 85 jet converted for firefighting-related air tanker use. Three other companies each won contracts to provide two aircraft to the agency.
All of the next-generation tankers are turbine powered, can carry at least 2,400 gallons of retardant, and have a cruising speed of at least 300 knots when fully loaded. The contracts allow for all four companies to provide additional air tankers to the agency in later years.
Beyond that immediate contract work, though, Aero-Flite also claims to be the largest private operator of CL-215 water scooping, amphibious aircraft in North America, and some of those planes designed specifically for use of fighting wildfires eventually are expected to be based here. Because of the maintenance and modification expertise Aero-Flite has developed caring for and equipping firefighting aircraft, which endure extraordinary stresses due to how they're used, it also offers such services to other aircraft owners on various types of planes.
Workforce predictions aside, all of that appears to lend credence to the potential for Aero-Flite to become a strong tenant at Spokane International Airport and a prominent player in the growing aerospace industry here.
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