A group of former US Airways and Pace Airlines executives has established a new aircraft maintenance company in North Carolina with Boeing 737 overhaul capabilities.

NS Aviation, led by CEO Charlie Creech and VP of maintenance Russ Kota, formally opened for business at the end of last week following an event attended by North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue. NS Aviation has taken over the maintenance facility at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem that was initially built by Piedmont Airlines and was more recently occupied by US Airways and Pace Airlines.

Pace ceased operations in 2009, leaving 241 mechanics unemployed - many which NS Aviation now aims to rehire. Creech tells ATI and Flightglobal that NS Aviation currently only has 31 employees but "we'd like to be at 125 by end of this year. It takes just a couple of lines of heavy checks to get to that."

Creech says NS Aviation was certified by the US FAA last month as a Part 145 repair station. He says NS Aviation is now capable of performing heavy maintenance up to d-checks on all 737 models and carrying out a wide range of modifications.

He says the new company is still looking to secure its first customer and will quickly add employees, including 36 retired mechanics which are ready to go back to work part-time, as soon as the first aircraft is contracted. "We're optimistic we'll be able to get some airplanes in here," Creech says, adding both airlines and leasing companies are being targeted.

He acknowledges the 737 MRO market "is somewhat competitive but it's the number one airplane flown in the world. We have a narrowbody facility that is tailored to the 737 plus we got the experience here. We're at Piedmont's old corporate headquarters."

Kota says at one point in the 1990s - after Piedmont was acquired by US Airways - the Winston-Salem maintenance facility had over 1,000 mechanics and four 737-400 maintenance lines. Kota was in charge of this operation until US Airways decided to shut it down in 1998.

Creech says the facility still has capacity to work on three to four 737s at one time. In a statement, Perdue's office says NS Aviation has pledged to create 308 jobs and invest $1.3 million over the next four years.

Creech says the $1.3 million investment includes 737 maintenance equipment and tooling which has already been purchased as well as building improvements. As part of the deal North Carolina has agreed to provide a $300,000 grant for the project.

For now NS Aviation will focus exclusively on 737s although Creech says it will later consider other aircraft types. He says the new company will also look at restarting Pace's former charter operation.

"We do have plan to a get a [FAA part] 121 certificate to possibly get the charter business up and running again. But that's down the road," Creech says.

Pace was a 737 charter operator for several years and began maintaining aircraft in Winston-Salem in late 2003, using part of the facility which US Airways had vacated in 1998. Pace for nearly six years used the facility for both in-house and third-party maintenance. Kota says in 2008 and 2009 Pace completed 29 heavy checks, 48 interior modifications and 15 winglet installations for Continental Airlines.

Hooters restaurant chain owner Bob Brooks acquired Pace in late 2002. Some of Pace's fleet was used to launch Hooters Air, which offered scheduled services for three years before shutting down in 2006.

While Hooters Air ceased operations, Brooks and later his estate continued to own Pace until May 2009. But less than six months after it was sold to new owners the company was out of business.

Creech and Kota were involved with Pace until the company was sold in 2009, with Creech serving as president and Kota as VP of maintenance. Both started their careers at Piedmont and stayed with US Airways after the 1989 acquisition. Creech says "we've been hammering on this for a while" but the NS Aviation project really kicked into gear last summer.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news