Helicopter company leaves Corvallis airport

Helicopter company leaves Corvallis airport
In this Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 photo, crews from Helicopter Transport Services work on a CH-54B helicopter at Corvallis Airport in Corvallis, Ore. (AP Photo/The Corvallis Gazette-Times, Amanda Cowan)

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — The Corvallis Municipal Airport is losing a major tenant.

Helicopter Transport Services, a national operation based in Baltimore, is getting ready to move its heavy lift division to the Aurora State Airport south of Portland after a dozen years in Corvallis.

"We ran out of space in the existing facility we have, and we needed a place where we could expand and where we could own the land," HTS operations manager Mark Pilon said.

The company also has a Midwest operations center in Illinois. It provides large-capacity helicopters for firefighting, construction and other applications throughout North America.

HTS moved its heavy lift division to leased space at the Corvallis airport in 2001, starting out with a couple of big Sikorskys and a handful of employees. The firm has grown significantly since then, with a fleet of about 20 choppers and 100 employees. More than 40 of those employees are based in Corvallis, Pilon said, many of them pilots and highly skilled mechanics earning hefty salaries.

But the heavy lift division is still in leased space, and it maxed out its 11,000 square feet of hangars long ago. The company recently completed work on a 200,000-square-foot hangar at Aurora, where it plans to consolidate all its operations. The move is expected to take place in the next six months, after permitting is complete.

"Everything we have in the United States is going into this facility," Pilon said. "It's easier to manage an operation when it's all under one roof."

Pilon said the company had hoped to stay in Corvallis but wanted to fully control its own facilities. The Aurora location was attractive in large part because of the opportunity to purchase land adjacent to the airport.

Dan Mason, the manager of the Corvallis Municipal Airport, said local officials tried to accommodate the company's expansion needs. Several years ago the City Council OK'd a lease that would have allowed HTS to build another 33,000 square feet of hangar space, but the company never signed it.

The sticking point was ownership.

City officials were willing to sell the company up to 10 acres, Mason said, but that would require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, something that is rarely granted.

The FAA parcels out funds for airport improvements — including $20 million to Corvallis since 1985 — and, as a result, the federal agency has virtual veto power over land sales.

Mason said the city was prepared to make a formal application for FAA permission, but HTS opted to take a different course.

"They were a growing company with some very skilled jobs, so it's sad to see them go," he said.

While the community will lose some high-wage jobs, Mason said direct economic impact to the airport will be minimal.

HTS is paying $16,000 a year to lease space for its fuel tankers and other ancillary operations, but the company sublets the hangar space. Mason said the primary leaseholder has told him he plans to keep making those payments, worth $27,000 a year, to the airport.

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Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press