Construction is bustling at the Sault Ste. Marie Airport, where anchor tenant J.D. Aero Technical Inc. is undergoing a transformation that brings with it a promise of economic development, employment and tax revenue for the city.
The company, which has the distinction of being the first business to set up shop in the airport's new industrial park, is more than doubling its footprint with the construction of a $3-million, 22,320-square-foot hangar, including a 39,600-square-foot apron.
It will link to the company's current 20,000-square-foot hangar, from which J.D. Aero specializes in aircraft maintenance, inspection and management services. Clients include Porter Airlines and Air Canada Jazz.
Capital comes from a $200,000 economic development grant from the city and a $1 million grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.'s (NOHFC) Infrastructure and Community Development Program.
Expansion became a necessity when the company ran out of space as it took on more work servicing Dash 8Q 400 aircraft, said Don McNabb, J.D. Aero's managing director.
“The hangar now only allows us to get one airplane in the hangar at a time,” McNabb said. “We can get two in, but one of them's kind of out the door, which really isn't good for length-of-time operations, so we decided that going forward at this point in time, we needed a little bit more hangar space. That's when we decided to talk to the airport about it and things all came together.”
Preliminary work started at the end of July with land levelling, power and water installation, a drainage ditch extension and the installation of footings. The pre-fabricated building has been ordered into production and is expected to arrive on site in mid-September with an estimated setup completion date of November. The hangar should be fully operational by December 1.
Securing a tenant to extend its stay is a major coup for the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation, CEO Terry Bos said.
“For the airport, it means we're making a start on our industrial park area, which was part of our business plan that we made several years ago,” he said. “It's a first step in the right direction in creating an industrial park out at the airport.”
The hangar expansion will take up between 15 and 20 per cent of the available land, so there's still “lots of space for development,” he added.
Bos anticipates positive spinoffs from J.D. Aero's presence, including tax revenue for the city. With more aircraft comes a need for more maintenance and service work, which translates into jobs, and he predicts like-minded businesses will follow suit.
“J.D. Aero have a niche with the repair, maintenance and overhaul, but whether there's a painting company or a manufacturing company that will obviously be able to align their service along with what J.D. Aero does, it certainly would fit into the plan we have for that area,” he said.
“And obviously other airlines or cargo companies could now look at Sault Ste. Marie as a base, because they have the availability of maintenance and repair right on site.”
The J.D. Aero expansion alone will create up to 14 jobs, and McNabb said since the company moved into its Sault location in 2010, it's strived to recruit from the local workforce, zeroing in on workers with experience both in aviation and general mechanics.
This summer, the company has additionally been mining from the roster of Ontario colleges graduates.
“With the new hangar we'll probably be looking at another five to eight full-time jobs, probably another five to 10 contract jobs, and then, when we get busy during peak times, we always have to end up bringing in some contractors just to get us through the peak times,” McNabb said.
While there isn't enough work to keep those contractors on full time, peak times can extend for six months of the year. McNabb predicts, at its busiest, J.D. Aero will employ about 70 people.
With a new hangar on the horizon, McNabb said the company is already looking ahead to expansion. The company has actually had to turn customers away in the past because it didn't have the capacity to house the aircraft that needed servicing.
That's about to change.
“With the existing customers we had and only the one hangar, we were busy enough all the time that we really couldn't fit anybody else in,” he said. “Now with this new hangar and the availability of extra space, we've gone back and started looking at some of these possible customers that we approached in the early days, in hopes of bringing in more work that way.”
Part of the expansion plan includes turning the facility into a fixed base operation (FBO), which would make the lounge and hangar available to business jets, air ambulance crews or other clients seeking daytime or overnight parking.
McNabb also predicts the installation of a fuel system “by this time next year.”
It's all good news to Bos, who's confident in the airport's ability to bring in more aviation experts and keep the expansion rolling.
“Obviously, Sault Ste. Marie is in a good strategic location within the country and the continent,” he said. “So hopefully having this additional business here will help attract that kind of business to Sault Ste. Marie as well.”