Illinois-based aircraft repair giant AAR Corp. has agreed to take over most of the vacant former Northwest Airlines maintenance facility and bring as many as 225 jobs to the city of Duluth.

The signed letter of intent with the city, announced Tuesday, will let AAR's maintenance, repair and overhaul group occupy 152,000 square feet of the former Northwest hangar. AAR said it plans to hire up to 225 people once the Duluth hangar is operating at full capacity. Duluth beat out several other cities for the selection.

"We are making a commitment to Duluth, and today's signing is a major step in establishing a presence here," said Dany Kleiman, AAR's group vice president for maintenance, repair and overhaul. "We hope to become an integral part of the Duluth business community in the coming months.''

Duluth Mayor Don Ness said that a final lease and improvements will be made soon to the building, built in 1996, which has sat largely vacant since about 2005, when Northwest Airlines started shutting down the jet maintenance facility, displacing about 400 workers.

"We are hoping that [AAR] will be operating out of this facility by the early fall," Ness said. City officials said the jobs are expected to pay $30,000 to $80,000 a year. They include mechanics, electricians, radio technicians, disassembly workers and other posts.

How much of a push there will be for workers and equipment installations first depends on how soon AAR finds customers who need airplane repairs and maintenance.

"There is a little bit of which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" said Brian Hanson, executive director of Duluth's Economic Development Authority. But Ness said AAR's large size and reach mean Duluth should not be waiting long to bring vitality back to the underused hangar.

"If [AAR] were a small operation and just scratching for that one major customer, that would put everybody on edge," Ness said. "The fact is that this is the premier operator in the industry and they do business with many of the big players ... such as Delta, UPS and Southwest Airlines. That gives us a lot of confidence.''

The work to lure AAR to Minnesota began more than a year ago when Duluth officials began lobbying several plane maintenance organizations. The city arranged for a job fair to showcase the airplane expertise of local residents. More than 300 former airline workers attended and another 300 sent in résumés, Hanson said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725