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An aviation company is expected to announce today it will open an air maintenance facility at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport with plans to hire up to 225 people.

West Star Aviation is to set up operations in an existing hangar, where it will provide maintenance and repairs to private aircraft along with other services.

West Star Chief Executive Robert Rasberry is to join Randy Boyd, state commissioner of economic and community development, and airport and other officials for an announcement at the Tennessee Aquarium at 9 a.m.

Rasberry said the company plans to start with about 50 employees.

"Our goal is to go to 175 to 225 at the end of five years," he said.

The company is moving into a 20,424-square-foot hangar off Airport Road. West Star worked with hangar owner Allan Jones, the Cleveland, Tenn., businessman who is founder and chief executive of payday lending empire Check Into Cash. There's a 15-acre site nearby that can be used for expansion.

West Star's planned investment in Chattanooga isn't immediately known, though the company aims to eventually build the business into similar size facilities it operates elsewhere, Rasberry said.

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The Illinois company has facilities in Chicago and East Alton, Ill.; Grand Junction and Aspen, Colo.; Columbia, S.C., and Chesterfield, Mo.

The company CEO said the Chattanooga operation will work on private jets only. Plans are to start up the Lovell Field facility as soon as possible, he said.

Rasberry declined further comment until the official announcement. Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Just last month, West Star opened a new paint facility at its Grand Junction, Colo., location, with more than 40,000 square feet of space with two new bays.

West Star's website said the business specializes in air frame repair and maintenance, engine repair and maintenance, major modifications, avionics installation and repair, interior refurbishment, paint, parts, surplus avionics sales, window repair and accessory services.

The company also provides complete fixed-base operation services for transient aircraft at its East Alton and Grand Junction facilities.

The Lovell Field hangar West Star is using formerly was owned by a company associated with J. Frank Harrison, who was chairman of Charlotte, N.C.-based Coca-Cola Consolidated until his retirement in 1995.

The prominent Chattanoogan and philanthropist died in 2002 and the hangar was later sold.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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