Southwest Airlines announced Thursday that it plans to build its first maintenance hangar in the Northeast at BWI Marshall Airport, a move that further cements its ties to the airport and signals more growth for the airline in the region.
The Dallas-based airline is the dominant carrier at BWI, with close to 69 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic, and the airport has been pushing a $60 million upgrade to the Southwest terminal to accommodate more traffic.
Southwest will pay for $80 million of the $130 million cost for the new 130,000-square-foot hangar, with the state picking up the remaining $50 million, state and airline officials said. The state’s funding is intended to cover needed infrastructure improvements including utility work and site preparation and will need to be approved by the state’s Board of Public Works.
Airport officials expect the panel to consider the construction contracts in coming months.
The hangar will give 120 airline technicians a three-bay indoor work space to service any of the more than 240 aircraft that come through the airport a day and provide storage space for tools and equipment and office space. There will be space outside for eight more airplanes.
“This will give us much needed maintenance capacity,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s president and CEO, who was at BWI for the announcement. “It’s important to have it in Baltimore because it’s such an important part of our route system.”
Currently, the work is done outside, no matter the weather, all year round, airline officials said.
Southwest has six other maintenance hangars around the country.
The new hangar is expected to break ground in 2019 and open in late 2021, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The hangar will be constructed in the airfield’s northwest quadrant, which is currently unoccupied, airport officials said.
No new maintenance positions were announced at BWI, though there will be more than 450 construction jobs involved on the project over the next three years. Eventually, the hangar will offer space for more workers as the airline adds more Boeing 737s to its fleet.
Kelly said the carrier expects to have about 750 airplanes by the end of the year but grow eventually to 1,200, perhaps over the next decade or two.
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is Southwest’s second busiest hub and the airline employs 4,837 workers at the airport.
Gov. Larry Hogan, also at BWI for the announcement along with state transportation officials, said Southwest and the airport are crucial to area businesses, as well as residents and tourists. He noted that BWI is the busiest of three airports in the Washington, D.C., region.
Supporting the airline will continue to boost economic development efforts in the state, Hogan said. Already, the airport is credited with supporting billions in economic activity.
Southwest has 243 departures a day to 64 cities, and its passenger volume at BWI grew 4.3 percent last year.
When Southwest launched service in the state just over 25 years ago, the airport had about 9 million passengers annually, and last year the carrier alone had more than 18 million passengers at BWI, airport officials say. The state and airport have worked to keep up, building a new terminal and upgrading services, including parking and baggage handling.
The $60 million in planned upgrades at the airport include five new gates and passenger waiting areas in Terminal A, as well as additional food and retail concessions, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration.
Hogan praised Southwest’s “big commitment” to BWI with the new hangar.
“This is a big deal; the airline does a lot for economic development in the state,” he said.