Blytheville aircraft repair plant considering ways to avoid lay-offs

BLYTHEVILLE, AR (KAIT) - During these tough economic times, in any kind of industry it is not unusual to have lay-offs. In December, Aviation Repair Technologies at the Blytheville Aeroplext laid off 65 workers.

However, a new business plan should soon put those workers back to work.

"Before we were a repair station that took care of the components off the aircraft. And we're gonna shift our focus more to be a component company that does heavy maintenance." Said Vice President and General Manager Rick Uber.

ART's main hanger is quiet with no mechanics working today. Two airplanes sit in the darkened hangar, one aircraft is in storage, the other ready to go back into service. Most personnel have been laid off. Uber says the 4th quarter of the year is always slow for them.

Uber, "It's one of the busiest times of flying for passenger airlines. Everyone likes to have their assets in the air right now so this is normal."

When ART first opened it's doors all the work was done primarily by contractors. When lay-offs came, they went home. Now with the company having nearly all local employees the layoffs hit closer to home.

The unexpected Chapter 11 filing for American Airlines literally stopped the flow of aircraft to ART and moved up the implementation for component repair.

Uber said the company had always had a leaning toward component repair. Uber, "We've had to change our focus and do it fairly quickly."

At the Aeroplex, building 250 is being remodeled, preparatory for beginning the repair phase for the company. There is new equipment just for composite materials being installed and eventually all the shops will be in this building.

I asked Uber what they would be working on in Blytheville, "The major components, airframe components of all aircraft we can bring in here where before we were focused on commuters." He said. Now it won't matter what kind of aircraft al though they are really targeting the Bombardier regional jets.

Uber took me through the shops that were currently working on components. In the shops now are avionics from Russia, a galley off a 747, thrust reversers from 737's, a horizontal stabilizer from a CRJ and a pilots seat being fitted for new material.

Uber says more customers, better for workers and workers in the future.

Uber, "The idea is to go from having 4 or 5 major customers to having 3 to 4 hundred customers. The component world will allow you to do that. Again to try and prevent anything happening like we just went through."

Uber says he hopes to have the remodel done and people back to work before their unemployment benefits expire.