Washington state company is bringing almost 600 jobs to KCI maintenance base

An aviation maintenance and overhaul firm that describes itself as one of the largest in North America is landing almost 600 skilled jobs at the KCI Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Base.

Aviation Technical Services, based in Everett, Wash., plans to lease 607,000 square feet at the huge base and invest $7 million in the facility.

The firm, also known as ATS, said Thursday it expects to hire 540 new employees and 40 contract workers for the facility within three to five years, and it said the operation could eventually grow to 1,000 jobs. The average salary for the skilled workers is expected to be $60,000.

ATS is the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul provider on the West Coast. It describes itself as one of the largest suppliers of Boeing 737 and 757 airframe maintenance in the world. One of its biggest customers is Southwest Airlines, which also has the most flights at KCI.

“This is a beautifully gift-wrapped package for Kansas City,” Ron Ricks, executive vice president of Southwest Airlines, said today. “Southwest is the largest operator of the Boeing 737 in the world. It should be no surprise, given the experience and expertise ATS has with the 737, that Southwest is a big ATS customer.

“Everybody wins with this one.”

The KCI facility will provide services for wide-body and narrow-body commercial and military transport jet aircraft ranging from painting fuselages to airframe maintenance. ATS president and CEO Matt Yerbic said it would handle more than 150 aircraft a year when fully operational.

The new operation is the first outside Washington state for ATS. It now has two hangar facilities at its headquarters in Everett and one in Moses Lake and employs more than 1,000 people.

Yerbic said his firm is looking forward to its first operation outside that region.

“We truly are excited about this opportunity,” Yerbic said. “We look to be good partners with the community and look to grow in Kansas City. This is the first major growth step this company has taken in a long time.”

ATS will be in the former American Airlines maintenance complex and expects to begin operations by spring 2014.

Yerbic said his firm had been seeking a location to expand for about six months and had narrowed its search to five cities before selecting Kansas City. He praised the work of state and city officials and the Kansas City Area Development Council in sealing the deal.

“We didn’t run a formal process but reached out to several states,” he said. “Missouri came back strong with a comprehensive approach. The facility and location also were of great interest to us.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon compared the ATS decision to the recent investment by Boeing in St. Louis.

“Once again, Missouri continues to be a global leader in the aerospace and aviation industry,” Nixon said in a statement.

“Following Boeing’s decision to bring up to 800 research and IT jobs to the Show-Me State, Aviation Technical Services’ announcement today is further evidence that Missouri’s highly skilled workforce and pro-business climate make it an outstanding place for companies large and small to prosper.”

No city tax incentives were part of the deal, and the state will be providing about $10 million in job training assistance.

The decision by ATS to invest in Kansas City, besides bringing a large number of well-paying technical and engineering aerospace jobs to the city, goes a long way to compensate for the loss of the American Airlines maintenance operation in 2010.

The 7 million-square-foot overhaul base at KCI was the longtime maintenance complex for TWA and other airlines under contract. When American bought TWA in 2001, the base employed 2,600 people. That number had dwindled to 500 mechanics, workers and managers by the time American closed the facility.

The city and state had invested $85 million to overhaul the wide-body hangar in 2005 in an effort to preserve the American Airlines maintenance jobs.

The overhaul base encompasses more than 2 million square feet of covered space, currently occupied by Jet Midwest, Frontier Airlines, ExpressJet, Republic Airlines and Smith Electric Vehicles.

The lease with ATS will require approval by the Kansas City Council.

“Kansas City has a long history with the airline industry,” Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “Jet Midwest started the momentum that led to today’s ATS announcement. ATS’ expansion plan shows that the industry’s future in Kansas City is as bright as its past.

“ATS had many options for its expansion and the fact that they chose Kansas City shows that our city continues to set itself apart from its peers. I’m thrilled to welcome ATS, and these new jobs, to our community.”

Yerbic said the presence of so many former aircraft maintenance workers in the region also was a plus for choosing Kansas City. Many of the workers at the ATS operation will be airframe and power plant specialists licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Kansas City and Wichita have a deep aviation base,” he said. “That does play a role.”

ATS was founded in 1970. Its workforce in Washington is experienced in heavy maintenance for many types of aircraft, including avionics upgrades and airframe work.

Bob Marcusse, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said the ATS decision will contribute to the growth of new manufacturing jobs in the region.

“When new manufacturers serving the auto and aviation industry are added to the growing number of information technology, logistics and biotech jobs being created by our local companies as well as new, entrepreneurial ventures, we have a balanced economy with an upward trajectory,” Marcusse said in a statement.