BANGOR, Maine — Three years ago, the CEO of a small aircraft maintenance company moved his family and headquarters from Brisbane, Australia, to Bangor. He had just 20 employees when he started in Maine. As of Thursday, Chris Kilgour, CEO of C&L Aerospace, employs about 130 people, is looking for 20 more, and hopes for another expansion at Bangor International Airport to bring even more jobs within a few years.
The company’s push to grow a Maine industry was lauded by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Bangor City Council Chairman Ben Sprague during a Thursday morning ceremony celebrating the reopening of a long-vacant, 17,000-square-foot former Dow Air Force Base hangar that C&L renovated to paint aircraft.
“This project is important because we’re developing a one-stop shop for customers, from parts acquisition to painting,” Kilgour said. “There are no paint shops of this size in the northeast. For the regional and corporate aircraft we service, there’s a huge demand for this kind of operation.” The painting hangar opened earlier this month. On Thursday, two Saab aircraft were inside and had been stripped of their paint. Kilgour said between 30 and 60 aircraft can be painted annually at C&L Aerospace, depending on the size of the planes being painted and whether there’s enough room for two at a time.
The project was funded in part by a $580,000 U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant awarded in 2013. Both Michaud and Collins lobbied heavily in favor of Bangor’s grant application during that process, Kilgour said.
C&L’s growth is a perfect example of what happens when public and private agencies collaborate, Michaud said during a news conference inside the hangar, standing next to a Saab 340 that recently had been stripped of its US Airways paint scheme.
“C&L’s decision to put its roots in Bangor and expand here is proof that Maine’s workers are among the finest in the world,” Michaud said in a release after the event. “This is the type of collaboration that will strengthen our state’s economy moving forward.”
Collins credited Kilgour for bringing good industry news to a state that has seen so much bad news in recent years — especially at paper mills. Kilgour said he would need to recruit some experienced aircraft painters from other parts of the nation or globe, as few people in Maine have that sort of background. Many others could be Mainers — people with experience painting boats or machinery, meaning it could be an option for some former mill workers, he said.
In a large, open building like C&L’s paint hangar, heat and energy costs are a huge concern, Kilgour said. Most painting operations require fresh air to be pumped into the building, but such a setup would prove far too costly during Maine’s frigid winters because all that air would need to be heated. Instead, C&L opted for a $1.5 million air handling system that recirculates already heated air back through the building. It also drastically cuts down emissions. That system was funded in part through a $137,000 grant from Efficiency Maine.
“Energy is expensive in Maine, and we don’t want to be wasting it,” Kilgour said.
Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, said the air handling system should save C&L about $433,000 per year in energy costs. Earlier this summer, C&L held a grand opening ceremony for its $5 million headquarters expansion at the airport.
Kilgour said his company has become a one-stop shop for overhauls and refurbishments of commercial and private aircraft from across the globe. The company isn’t going to rest on its laurels, however. Kilgour said he already is considering the potential for another expansion project in a few years. He’s eyeing another hangar at the airport.
“This hasn’t been a short road, but it has been well worthwhile,” Kilgour said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.