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Everett aviation company tries to hang on as coronavirus crisis stalls airline industry

Aviation Technical Services, which maintains planes for Southwest, Delta and Air Canada, struggles as the global coronavirus pandemic also hits the economy.

EVERETT, Wash. — Aviation Technical Services in Everett was riding high before the coronavirus drove passengers from planes and planes from the skies.

But now, there are more than 60 Southwest Airlines 737s parked at Paine Field on the ramp at ATS, where the 50-year-old company maintains much of Southwest’s fleet.

“If the industry is hurt so badly, the airline industry is hurt so badly, travel is hurt so badly — you can conceive that the demand for the work that we do goes down so much that it might not be able to exist here,” said Matt Yerbic, the company’s chief executive officer.

Yerbic said the downturn is not the only factor that threatens the company. ATS and other U.S.-based firms in the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul industry, known as MRO, also face foreign competition from companies in Asia and Central America, he said.

He estimates his maintenance business is already off by a third or more and could go lower. The company has already laid off 250 employees.

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Yerbic appreciates Southwest storing planes at its Paine Field headquarters. Other airlines including Delta and Air Canada also are storing planes at ATS facilities in Moses Lake and Kansas City. Storing planes for these airlines allows ATS to keep some employees working.

But the money to keep parked planes in top shape for the day they fly again is small, when compared to the revenue that comes in from maintenance.

Mechanics and technicians do that work. He says many have been trained at ATS, and have received their airframe certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration. The company’s training program has helped move some people from low-wage positions into family wage jobs working on aircraft.

Yerbic says the company is filing an application with the U.S. Treasury hoping it can receive help to hang on until the industry can turn around. He's also contacted Congressman Rick Larsen and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in Washington’s congressional delegation for help.

“It’s complicated. And I can’t guarantee today that we’re included. I think we are, and this morning is working on our application,” he said. “And we think we’ll be okay. But we don’t know for sure.”

He told KING 5 that any assistance would help preserve local jobs.

“Glenn, our kind of business is largely people. And so virtually every dollar we get as a grant, will go right back to our employees here. So we’re going to take advantage of grants where they’re available, or loans where they’re available.”

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