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AAR Aircraft Services to add 40 jobs in Duluth

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Forum News Service

Few things pain Mayor Don Ness more than hearing young people say they’d like to stay in Duluth but can’t because there are no suitable job opportunities for them in the city.

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As he announced AAR Aircraft Services’ plans to hire an additional 40 people at its maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in Duluth on Thursday, Ness said there’s no reason those jobs can’t be filled by locals. Ness was joined at the news conference by local higher education and business leaders.

“We have openings. We just need to encourage local folks to gain the skill sets needed to fill them,” Ness said.

Toward that end, Lake Superior College aims to launch a two-year program next fall that will provide the airframe and power plant certification AAR seeks in many of its successful job applicants. College President Patrick Johns said the school is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get its training curriculum approved, but people eager to be certified could begin work on some of the prerequisite coursework immediately at LSC.

“Part of our mission at Lake Superior College is to provide programming to help support local industry,” Johns said.

Ness praised AAR, calling it a world-class operator in its industry.

In November, when the company moved into an abandoned aircraft maintenance site once operated by Northwest Airlines, Ness recalled the goal was for the facility to employ 225 people within the next three years. Less than one year after its arrival in Duluth, he said AAR already has far exceeded those expectations, with 276 people now on its local payroll and plans to hire 40 more.

Mark Ketterer, AAR’s director of maintenance in Duluth, said the additional personnel will enable the facility to fully staff three work lines.

Eventually, AAR plans to operate four work lines in Duluth, a development that Ketterer said could bring an additional 40 to 50 jobs to the facility. All told, the base could employ about 360 people.

When AAR began operations in Duluth, it said its workers would earn between $30,000 and $80,000 in base pay per year.

“These are exciting times because we have good jobs being created here. Now it’s time for our community to deliver on its end of the bargain,” Ness said of the need to meet AAR’s talent requirements.

To find the skilled work force it needs immediately, Ketterer said AAR has found it necessary to recruit most of its Duluth workers from outside the region.

As more people find jobs in Duluth, Ness said, the city also must meet the need for additional housing. He noted that the vacancy rate in the local rental market has fallen to under 1 percent.

Ketterer said AAR is in Duluth for the long haul, during the news conference.

The Duluth facility focuses solely on servicing Airbus jets, including the A319, A320 and A321. Ketterer said that AAR has invested about $9.2 million in tooling and equipment specific to that task.

Air Canada is AAR’s only customer in Duluth.

“They were looking for a dedicated facility with trained technicians to work just on their airplanes, and Duluth was the perfect fit. We’re so close to Canada,” Ketterer said.

Although he declined to go into details, Ketterer said Air Canada has signed a long-term contract with AAR.

The specialized Airbus facility AAR is developing in Duluth should have no problem staying busy, Ketterer said.

“In another six to eight months, the skill level we’ll have here will surpass that of any other facility in the country,” he said.

Ness pointed to the Twin Ports’ aviation sector as a bright spot in the local economy. He said that in the next seven years, total local employment in the industry is expected to grow significantly. In addition to new jobs coming on line at AAR, Ness said additional employment opportunities are anticipated at Cirrus Aircraft, Kestrel Aircraft and at a host of suppliers.

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