United Airlines began construction of a proposed $800-million aircraft maintenance facility at the Indianapolis International Airport in August 1992. However, plans for the Indianapolis maintenance center, which performs heavy maintenance work on the airline’s fleet of Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft, began at least three years earlier when United Airlines identified the need for a new facility to ease the burden at its already crowded San Francisco maintenance center.

Hanger 1 of the United Airlines Maintenance Center, ca. 1990s.
Credit: Indiana Historical Society, M1080.

Indianapolis was chosen as the site of the 2.6 million-square-foot facility after intense competition from more than 90 bidders. United officials cited the financial incentives offered by the city and the state of Indiana, as well as the city’s available workforce, economic stability, school systems, and housing costs, as important elements of their decision. The public partners in the project offered $297.7 million in financial incentives. The city of Indianapolis supplied $111.5 million from a sale of bonds; the state of Indiana, $159 million from bonds and $15.2 million in grants; and Hendricks County, $8 million.

The facility was planned to be built in several phases over a 12-year period. When completed, it would have featured 11 hangers with 18 aircraft bays, two nose bays, and an array of support facilities. The first phase involved 200 of the 300 acres allocated to the project and included eight service bays and one nose bay with associated shop buildings, supply building, central plant, main commons building, roads, and parking, which was to be completed in 1995.

The first hanger—a part of Phase I—was completed in December 1993, and the first plane arrived for repairs in 1994. Every one of United’s Boeing 737s and 757s would have come through the Indianapolis Maintenance Center every 13 to 15 months for a two-to-three-day maintenance process. Every four years each aircraft would undergo a heavy maintenance visit, which effectively involved disassembling and reassembling the entire aircraft. The maintenance center projected employment of 7,500 high-paying jobs by 2004, but it never came close.

The plan did not unfold as the group had hoped. After suffering from some severe financial struggles, United closed the Indianapolis center in 2003. By the early 2010s, however, the Airport Authority had claimed the facility and rebuilt the employee population to just over 1,000 workers. The site took the name of “Indianapolis Maintenance Center.”

The Indianapolis Airport Authority and AAR Aircraft Services agreed to a new 10-year lease for the facility in 2015. The Indianapolis Maintenance Center provides hands-on training to future pilots and mechanics, including such tasks as landing-gear exchanges, engine changes, and standard maintenance inspections.

Revised March 2021
 

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