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Tampa International Airport hangar may bustle again soon

New life in the form of 400 jobs may be ahead for this maintenance hangar at Tampa International that was abandoned in 2002.

Times photo (2003)

New life in the form of 400 jobs may be ahead for this maintenance hangar at Tampa International that was abandoned in 2002.

TAMPA — An Alabama aircraft maintenance firm has agreed to start a satellite operation at Tampa International Airport that is expected to employ more than 400 workers by the end of 2009.

Pemco World Air Services of Dothan, Ala., signed a 15-year lease on the old US Airways hangar effective April 1.

The company, whose customers include Southwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines, plans to work on its first jet in Tampa this summer, said Louis Miller, executive director of the airport. The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board is scheduled to vote on the lease Thursday.

Pemco and the authority nearly closed a deal on the hangar last summer. But its parent sold the commercial jet business in September to Sun Capital Partners, a private investment firm in Boca Raton for $43-million.

The company soon broke off talks on the hangar, citing the potential loss of a maintenance contract Pemco had expected to win. Last month, Pemco called airport officials to revive the project, Miller said.

"We told them, 'We're ready to go if you're serious,' " he said. "It's good news." The new deal will restore hundreds of local aircraft maintenance and repair jobs lost when the airline industry went into a financial slump after the 9/11 attacks. Pemco executives were traveling Monday and not available for comment.

US Airways abruptly closed the hangar and laid off about 300 workers just before Thanksgiving 2002, months after filing for bankruptcy reorganization.

In March 2005, Delta Air Lines announced plans to close its hangar at Tampa International and cut 300 jobs. The move was part of a wider effort to save $240-million by hiring outside companies to take over heavy jet maintenance mostly performed by Delta mechanics in Atlanta. The local hangar remains empty.

To cut costs, airlines increasingly shifted aircraft maintenance and repair to companies like Pemco in the past couple of decades. The company employs 900 and services more than 200 commercial aircraft annually.

Pemco outgrew its facilities in Dothan, former chief executive Ronald Aramini said last year. A business plan last June said the company planned to start with 130 Tampa employees and build up to 410, including 305 mechanics, by the end of 2009.

Mechanics will earn $18 per hour and inspectors $20.50 hourly, the plan said. Three out of four mechanics will be Pemco employees, with the rest leased from other companies.

They will perform scheduled maintenance — the aviation equivalent of a 30,000-mile check on your car — on the airframes of narrow-body jets including Boeing 737s, MD88s and Airbus 320s.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Pemco recently began contacting local mechanics who submitted applications last year. Working in Tampa again sounds good to Sam Rivera, a veteran US Airways mechanic who has commuted each week to Philadelphia since December.

"It's a lot of wear and tear,'' said Rivera, who lives north of Tampa in Northdale. "With the crash pad and everything, I'm paying $400 per month (to commute). I'd rather be home."

.FAST FACT

Aircraft mechanics getting recruited

Pemco recently began contacting local mechanics who submitted applications last year. Working in Tampa again sounds good to Sam Rivera, a veteran US Airways mechanic who has commuted each week to Philadelphia since December. "It's a lot of wear and tear," said Rivera, who lives north of Tampa in Northdale. "With the crash pad and everything, I'm paying $400 per month (to commute). I'd rather be home."

Tampa International Airport hangar may bustle again soon 03/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 12:32am]
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