Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, has opened a new 37,000-square foot maintenance facility at Albany International Airport.
The once-vacant hangar marks the sixth maintenance facility for Piedmont Airlines, which completes 380 flights a day using a fleet of Embraer 145 regional jets. Bill Arndt, Piedmont’s Vice President of Maintenance and Engineering, says the airline serves a number of northern cities, like Buffalo, Burlington, and Boston. He says maintenance personnel would suffer long road trips whenever an aircraft needed fixing – and that made Albany appealing.
“So Albany is right in the center of that, and basically we have about a three-hour road trip loop to many different cities in the Northeast," Arndt says. "So if there is a problem with an aircraft, we can get to it on the overnight and have the aircraft depart on time the very next morning.”
Together, Piedmont, American Airlines, and the Albany County Airport Authority invested over $3 million in renovating the hangar, beginning in October 2018. Arndt says the facility is already operating with 45 maintenance technicians, quality control inspectors, avionics technicians, and more to maintain its 50-passenger aircraft.
“We started with one aircraft coming into the hangar here in January, moved it up to two aircraft in April, and we’re now at three even though we’re not up-to-staff yet – we’re not officially counting the third one as a maintenance RON, it is here to clear MELs and pilot write-ups and things," Arndt explains. "But that is really our goal, and we’ve got a lot of the facility done, we’ve got a little more work to do, and we’ve got some more space that we’d like to get.”
In other words, the third plane is not yet an official “remain overnight,” or RON aircraft as far as Arndt is concerned, but the facility is going over its minimum equipment list, or MEL. As the hangar progresses, Arndt says the facility’s workforce will nearly double to 72 positions. To attract applicants, Piedmont is offering $17,500 in bonuses to new technicians depending on their experience, with an added $11,000 to veterans. Aside from bringing in jobs, Albany International Airport CEO John O’Donnell says deals like this help reduce the airport’s operating costs and attract new routes.
“When airlines look to expand or launch new service at a particular airport, they look at the operating costs," O'Donnell notes. "And one big factor they look at is the cost per in-plane passenger, and this is the cost that an airline would pay to fly out of any particular airport. Our airport has been very successful in maintaining costs here, and once again this attracts airlines to an airport.”
The Piedmont hangar isn’t the only project in the works at the airport. New York State Department of Transportation Executive Deputy Commissioner Ron Epstein says the state is investing millions to update its terminal, parking garage, amenities, and nearby roadways.
“It’s one thing to make it easier to use the airport on-site – we want to make it easier for people to get here," says Epstein. "So the state is in the process right now, and many of you probably saw it on your way over – we’re making a $50 million commitment, and we’re constructing new ramps and access points to the airport so that it is much easier in providing direct access to the airport.”
It’s also not the first time American Airlines has invested in Albany International Airport. CEO O’Donnell says the relationship between the two goes way back to the 1930s, when the airport headquartered American Airlines’ Colonial Division.
“Colonial Airways began flying from Albany to Montreal on October 1, 1928. It was the first international air-mail and passenger flight between the United States and Canada," O'Donnell notes.
After American Airlines branch American Eagle pulled its maintenance facility from Albany in 2003, O’Donnell says the Piedmont deal feels like the company is “coming home.”
Piedmont Airlines provides passenger service to American Airlines hubs like Philadelphia and Charlotte, and ground service to 80 cities across the country.