Oxford Aviation hopes Brunswick painting operation will take off

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BOWDOINHAM — Oxford Aviation, which has plans to expand to a redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station, announced Tuesday that it hopes to seek state assistance to grow its aircraft refurbishing business to include painting jet airliners.

F. Lee Bailey, the famous attorney recently hired by the Oxford-based company as a consultant, told the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority board of directors that a $700,000 painting booth at the Brunswick facility would allow the company to attract business from an estimated pool of 51,000 general aviation aircraft located within 500 miles of BNAS.

Bailey said that Oxford Aviation was already negotiating with Airbus, the French aircraft manufacturer that develops and builds jets seating 100 to 525 passengers.

“We’re looking for a paint booth that will accommodate an aircraft about the size of a (Boeing) 737,” Bailey said. “There are only a few companies in the country that can paint an airplane that big.”

“We think (a Brunswick operation) would become well-known throughout the world very quickly,” he added.

Last fall, Oxford Aviation announced its intention to become a tenant at the base once the U.S. Navy vacates the facility. The company, which reupholsters and refurbishes aircraft, said expanding to Brunswick will create 200 jobs there and grow the existing workforce in Oxford. 

The company previously attempted to expand to Sanford Regional Airport, but financing for the $10 million project fell through last summer. Company officials have since made assurances that the Brunswick expansion is a better opportunity because runways there will allow the company to work on larger aircraft that can’t land at Sanford.

Oxford’s Brunswick expansion, including its plans to purchase the $700,000 paint booth, may require state assistance.

Bailey told the MRRA board Tuesday that he’s hoping the authority will authorize applying for funding through the Maine Rural Development Association, an organization created by the Legislature to help communities and their respective development entities to redevelop abandoned or underutilized commercial and industrial properties, such as mills.

Private companies cannot apply for MRDA funding, but public entities like MRRA can. If the MRRA board agrees to apply on Oxford Aviation’s behalf, MRDA could provide up to $500,000 for the paint booth, with matching funds.

MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said an agreement would have to be structured to determine if Oxford Aviation or the authority would ultimately own the paint booth. 

It’s also unclear if the booth is too costly for Oxford Aviation to buy on its own, and if so, what that says about the company’s balance sheet. Bailey assured the board that the company is in good standing and that its workforce has remained at full strength despite the economic downturn. 

After the meeting, Bailey that reiterated that assessment, adding that a first-class exterior painting operation would make Oxford Aviation “overloaded very quickly.”

“Fortunately for us, the American public has the attention span of a 4-year-old,” he said, adding that companies with business aircraft – Oxford’s chief clientele – have grown nervous about the public backlash of flying their aircraft at the same time they are firing workers.

“After that early reaction, when companies were hiding their jets, we’ve seen no fall-off in our business,” Bailey said.

Nonetheless, the MRRA board will have to weigh carefully any decision to apply for funding on Oxford Aviation’s behalf.

John Richardson, a MRRA board member and Maine’s commissioner of Economic and Community Development, is the Legislature-appointed member on the MRDA board. Richardson said Tuesday that while the discussion is very preliminary, he’s “favorably inclined” to support Oxford’s request because it would help set up the company’s planned Brunswick Jet Division.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net