Purchases air tanker operation

by: Photo by Holly M. Gill - Aero Air, of Hillsboro, has purchased the Butler Aircraft firefighting operation, including DC-7s, at the Madras airport. The local operation, which will be called Erickson Aero Tanker, will also house a fleet of MD-87s – the next generation of air tankers.

Change is in the air at the Madras Municipal Airport, where Aero Air, of Hillsboro, has purchased Butler Aircraft's firefighting operations and will assume the company's lease.
   Kevin McCullough, of Scappoose, co-owner of Aero Air, along with Jack Erickson, the founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, said the deal was finalized with Butler Aircraft's owners Travis and Nan Garnick on Monday.
   "We bought all the firefighting assets of Butler Aircraft -- aircraft and equipment -- and assumed the hangar lease," said McCullough, who offered positions to everyone employed at the Madras operation, and is currently employing five mechanics for heavy equipment maintenance.
   At a special meeting Nov. 1, the Madras City Council unanimously approved Aero Air's assumption of the lease, which was set up as a five-year lease, with options to renew three times, for up to 20 years. Butler's lease started in August 2010, with a payment of $6,600 per month, increasing to $8,619.03 by Aug. 1, 2024.
   In addition to the lease of the 44,000-square-foot hangar, located at 2322 N.W. Airport Way, Aero Air acquired Butler Aircraft's three DC-7s, and will eventually bring over its fleet of MD-87s from Hillsboro.
   "One of the reasons we did this is because we have purchased seven MD-87s, and have been awarded the next generation air tanker contract by the U.S. Forest Service," said McCullough. "The Forest Service wants to replace its aging fleet of (Lockheed) P-2s with what they refer to as the next gen of air tankers."
   The owners of Aero Air contacted the Garnicks about nine months ago to ask if they would consider selling the firefighting portion of their operation.
   "We were looking for a place on the West Coast to have our air tanker business," said McCullough, who was extremely impressed with the city's hangar, and the Garnicks' well-maintained aircraft.
   "It's a gorgeous facility," he said. "It's going to be a great place for the expansion of our tanker operation."
   Besides the Forest Service contract, Aero Air will also contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry to provide use of the DC-7s air tankers for firefighting on state lands.
   Aero Air has been working to develop the next generation of aircraft for nearly two years. "They're going to be the cornerstone for our firefighting operations," said McCullough.
   "We really like the Central Oregon environment," he said. "The facilities are perfect for what we need to do and want to do, and it's 88 nautical miles (from Hillsboro), so it's a big advantage to us."
   Aero Air currently has 172 employees at numerous locations in the Northwest and Alaska. The local operation, which will be headed up by Glen Newton, will include at least five mechanics and five pilots.
   "In the future, there will probably be someplace between 36 and 60 employees," he said, noting that the Madras operation will be called Erickson Aero Tanker.
   From the completion of the new Madras General Aviation Building in 2006 and the new city hangar in 2010, to paving and installation of an automated weather system earlier this year, city officials have been working on airport improvements to bring higher-wage jobs to the community.
   "We've been working on this project for over a year," said Rob Berg, airport manager. "This is the accumulation of everything we've been working for at the airport -- extending and modernizing Airport Way, all our airfield updates over the last two years of grants, with the weather and lighting system upgrades -- have all been working toward bringing another major operator to the Madras airport."
   "As we develop infrastructure, we've accomplished that goal by bringing them and their jobs to Madras," said Berg. "These are true family-wage jobs."
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