Premier Aviation opens heavy maintenance base in Ontario

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Canadian MRO specialist Premier Aviation has opened an airframe heavy maintenance centre in Windsor, Ontario, as part of its three-pronged expansion strategy to meet demand from domestic and foreign airlines.

The purpose-built Canadian dollars (C$) C$23 million ($22.9 million) hangar came on stream last month following the audit by Transport Canada.

Occupying a 143,000ft2 site at Windsor International Airport, it is Ontario's largest aircraft overhaul building with capacity to accommodate five narrowbody maintenance lines.

The new facility initially employed 60 staff but the company owner and chief executive Ronnie Di Bartolo expects it to create up to 300 jobs over the next two years if it reaches full capacity. He says clients have eagerly waited for the hangar to open in Windsor and anticipates good business thanks to the airport's close proximity to the US border.

LAN Colombia became the launch customer when one of its 10 Bombardier Dash 8-200s arrived from Bogota for a C-check on 22 September. Premier Aviation vice president for marketing and sales David Diggle says it will also provide support for the rest of the carrier's turboprop fleet.

The Windsor facility is a third of Premier's operation, along with its main base in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and overhaul centre near Rome in upper New York. Diggle says that it will concentrate on regional jets and turboprops, sticking to a 'one line at a time' approach, before serving larger aircraft types.

"The growth will be incremental as we feel comfortable and successful with one line of aircraft work," he says. "We also want to avoid work duplication among the three operations, with each specialising in performing checks on particular models."

Premier says it is negotiating with several domestic and foreign airlines to secure business for the new facility. "We're doing all possible to meet needs of Air Canada," noted Diggle, alluding to the bankruptcy of the carrier's former maintenance provider Aveos.

Air Canada has already contracted out the work on a portion of its Embraer 175s to Premier's Trois-Rivieres outlet, which has also reached a five-year agreement in principle with WestJet to carry out heavy checks on its Boeing 737s.

Meanwhile, the Rome-based operation has overhaul one of Air Canada's 767s and is turning its focus to the Airbus A320 aircraft family. "There are several A320s standing nose to tail in the hangar," says Diggle.

Di Bartolo believes the Windsor Ontario facility is a perfect complement to the two other affiliate facilities and to the evolving trends of the aviation industry in North America. He argues that all three locations are geo-politically advantageous, situated within the radius of 1h flight from eight of the largest airports on the continent and with an abundance of skilled labour.