Gov. Asa Hutchinson, American Airlines executives and Little Rock Airport Commission and city officials announced Tuesday (Sept. 13) that American will establish an aircraft maintenance facility at the former Hawker Beechcraft hanger at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
Dallas-based American Airlines said it plans to invest more than $2 million and bring 60 new “high-paying” jobs to the area, where workers will provide maintenance support over the next five years for the carrier’s Envoy fleet of 76-seat Embraer 175 (E175) aircraft.
Envoy Air Inc. is the former American Eagle subsidiary of American Airlines Group that operates nearly 200 aircraft on about 1,200 daily regional flights to more than 150 U.S. destinations. In early June, American ratified an agreement with the regional carrier’s 2,400-person pilot union to purchase 40 new E175s with an option to purchase up to 90 more in the future.
According to Jay Murray, Envoy’s vice president of maintenance, the new Little Rock facility will provide scheduled overnight maintenance for up to four E175 aircraft and provide line maintenance for the 15 daily American Eagle flights from Little Rock to American’s hubs in Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago.
“I would like to thank … the state of Arkansas, the Little Rock community and everybody else for their support,” Murray said during the 30-minute ceremony. “While they are not as visible as our agents, pilots and flight attendants, Envoy’s professional (maintenance) staff work around the clock, 365 days of the year to make sure out fleet is maintained at the highest level.”
AVIATION SECTOR GROWTH IN ARKANSAS
In his remarks before the unveiling of the E175 at the huge former Hawker airport hangar, Hutchinson applauded the new Envoy facility as a welcome addition to Arkansas’ growing aerospace and aviation industry.
“We are proud to welcome Envoy’s Little Rock maintenance base to Arkansas,” the governor told the more than 200 cheering dignitaries and airport employees at the morning ceremony as the curtain came down to reveal a new Envoy E175 aircraft. “Through Envoy Air’s decision to locate in central Arkansas, 60 of our fellow Arkansans will have great new jobs, building a better quality of life for these families while also growing the state’s economy.”
During his brief speech, Hutchinson said that Envoy chose Arkansas after months of competitive negotiations that pitted Little Rock against other U.S. cities.
“They are coming here because of the strength of our workforce, the central location in the United States, the available facilities, and the team that put together the (deal) to encouraged them to locate here,” the governor said. “Arkansas right now has 188 aviation companies. But this adds to our efforts in aero-defense, which is a $1.6 billion industry in terms of exports for our state.”
Envoy also operates a maintenance base at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) which it established in 2004 and expanded in 2007 to provide maintenance support for the 21 American and American Eagle departures it offers from XNA to Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York LaGuardia.
HAWKER HANGAR NO LONGER VACANT
After Hutchinson and Murray spoke, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola spoke about the long-term relationship between the city and American Airlines, dating back to 1931 when the airline carrier operated Little Rock’s first scheduled passenger flight to Memphis, Tenn. American and American Eagle have continuously served the Little Rock community since 1973.
Stodola also said after Hawker Beechcraft announced plans to close its 100-person private jet facility at the Little Rock Airport after the company went bankrupt in 2012, city officials have struggled with how to make use of the 350,000-square-foot facility.
As a result of Hawker’s bankruptcy, the company’s long-term lease was terminated and the hangar and affiliated buildings became publicly owned, according to airport officials. Multiple tenants now subdivide four areas of space consisting of specialized hangars, office and production and 11 acres of airside ramp space. Envoy has agreed to a five-year lease at $20,000 per month with two, five-year options.
“When Hawker Beechcraft left, we had some concerns about what we were going to do with this beautiful hangar, and how we were going to put it back to use,” Stodola said. “One of (Little Rock’s) contribution to this deal is favorable negotiations on the lease.”
According to airport officials, Envoy will make modifications to the existing 37,000 square foot hangar to accommodate the larger E175 regional jets and expects the new facility to be operational by year end. Arkansas is providing a $500,000 grant from its Economic Development Incentive Quick Action Closing Fund to help fund the hangar modifications.
Murray said the two Envoy maintenance facilities in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas will employ nearly 150 workers. The Little Rock facility will begin hiring immediately, and is expected to be in operation by the end of this year. It will be staffed by Envoy employees, including mechanics, inventory control clerks, management and support personnel.