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Airplane refurbishment could become new major industry for Lynchburg

By Tim Saunders, tsaunders@wdbj7.com
Published On: Jul 24 2013 05:17:19 PM EDT
Updated On: Jul 24 2013 07:12:46 PM EDT

How that could create a whole new set of jobs for people in the region.

LYNCHBURG, Va. -

Ben Gimbert is using old skills in a whole new way.

"I've worked on these airplanes before, so I had to dust off my tool box a little bit," said Gimbert, a mechanic who is part of a new business at Freedom Aviation.

In the last 12 months, the company has started refurbishing old jets.

"I think this is a great way to utilize the buildings out here," Gimbert said.

The work is meeting a growing demand. Commercial airlines are moving away from small jets and going to larger ones. Private companies are buying the retired planes and retrofitting them for their own needs.

"There has to be a business to do that for them and we see that as an opportunity for us," said Dave Young, president of Freedom Aviation.

Freedom currently employs about 20 people in its refurbishing department, but Young wants to bring in more workers and more planes.

"We have airplanes that are waiting to come here," Young said. "The problem we have is that we are space limited."

Young wants to build a larger hanger at the airport, to accommodate the growth. Experts believe that expansion could be successful.

Lynchburg's Economic Development Authority recently hired a consultant to identify industries that could generate new jobs. Aircraft maintenance and repair is one of the areas that showed the most promise.

The workforce is already available, thanks to Liberty University's School of Aeronautics, which owns Freedom Aviation. LU students are training to repair and refurbish aircraft.

"We see it as a great opportunity to recruit for our school of aeronautics, and to create local jobs for our graduates to move into," said Young.

It's also an opportunity for mechanics like Gimbert, who sees a stable future in this emerging industry.

"I mean the sky's the limit," Gimbert said. "The sky's the limit on it."

Constructing a new hanger to accommodate Freedom's expansion won't be an overnight process. Because the building would be located at Lynchburg's airport, there's a lot of planning that would need to happen before any construction could take place.

Young plans to pursue grants from the city of Lynchburg and Campbell County to make the project a reality.