ONE of the city's largest players in aviation is gearing up to double its aircraft-maintenance workforce and bring work from across North America to a new $10-million hangar on the outskirts of Richardson International Airport.
"This is the largest hangar at the airport, next to Air Canada's," said Mike Pyle, CEO of Exchange Income Corp. "On any given night, there might be six to 10 planes in here."
Exchange Income Corp. (EIC) owns, among other things, virtually all Manitoba's regional airlines, including Calm Air, Perimeter Aviation, Keewatin Air and Bearskin Airlines.
The company recently completed a brand-new, 65,000-square-foot maintenance hangar for Calm Air immediately east of the Western Canada Aviation Museum near Ferry Road.
Although the idea was to start heavy maintenance on Calm Air's fleet of 11 ATR turboprops and two Fairchild-Dornier 328 jets immediately after commissioning the hangar, the company decided to take its time building up the capability.
Gary Bell, Calm Air's president, said the plan is to have the infrastructure in place by the end of this year to start doing the month-long, heavy-maintenance C-checks on its own fleet.
For now, the massive hangar is used for nightly light maintenance or so-called line checks for about half Calm Air's planes. The other half of the work is done at Calm Air hangars in Thompson and Churchill.
But the hangar was built for the heavy-maintenance work.
"We'll try it out with one line initially (by the end of the year) because we have enough work internally to do one line," Bell said. "If it goes well, we'll consider adding second or third to perhaps do third-party work."
The company currently has about 25 maintenance engineers, and when it starts the more extensive heavy maintenance, it will need at least double that number.
Bell believes the labour pool in Winnipeg is good, undoubtedly made better by the closure of the Aveos shop in 2012. Aveos did heavy maintenance, mostly on Air Canada's Airbus planes.
For now, Calm Air's ATRs are sent to maintenance shops in Quebec and the United States for that work.
Pyle said the benefit of having its own facility is not so much a cost saving as it is a convenience for the company's management of its own fleet.
"We had to build this no matter what," Pyle said. "It's not necessarily going to save money, but it's all about time and convenience for us. We'll be able to set our own maintenance schedule instead of having to meet their schedule."
The development of that kind of enhanced technical work will beef up the size of the aerospace activity in Winnipeg and potentially attract other work.
Ken Webb, executive director of the Manitoba Aerospace Association, said, "The growth in critical mass means more jobs and more work. It also creates more synergies that will deepen and strengthen the supply chain here."
EIC has its own internal synergies it can create with the new hangar. Calm Air's sister company, Perimeter, is already utilizing the facility, doing nightly line maintenance on its Dash-8 planes. Perimeter's hangar is built for its fleet of smaller Metro planes and has a hard time accommodating the Dash-8s.
Pyle is particularly interested in the possibility of doing heavy maintenance for another sister company that EIC owns, called Regional One.
The Florida-based company buys and sells planes and parts in the secondary market.
Sometimes it will tear down planes for its parts and other times it will refurbish the planes and lease them.
Regional One is considering the acquisition of a number of ATRs, the same plane in which Calm Air is expert and for which it is tooling up to become certified for heavy maintenance.
"That's what we are going to do here," Pyle said. "There can be a real symbiotic relationship between Calm Air and Regional One. They can be a source of parts for Calm Air and we will be a source of overhaul for them."