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Southwest to invest in new MRO facility at Baltimore/Washington

Southwest Airlines will co-fund a new $130 million regional maintenance facility at Baltimore/Washington International airport, to better meet its needs at the second busiest airport in its network.

Construction of the 12,080m2 (130,000ft2) line maintenance facility will begin early next year, with completion in 2021. Southwest will invest $80 million, with the Maryland Aviation Administration contributing the remaining $50 million.

The three-bay hangar will be the first of its kind for Southwest in the northeast, complementing six maintenance hangars in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Orlando and Phoenix. The facility will include additional exterior parking spots for eight aircraft, as well as office space.

Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly says the facility is yet another signal of the airline's "serious commitment" to Baltimore/Washington.

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Construction of the hangar is expected to create 450 jobs, but will not significantly grow maintenance employee numbers at the airline. Southwest currently employs more than 120 technical operations staff at the airport, which is its largest line operation and has the most number of Southwest aircraft remaining overnight.

The new facility will provide shelter to these employees in inclement weather, and also provide more space for storage of parts, Kelly tells FlightGlobal.

"It will be nice to have that flexibility," he says of the additional maintenance capacity to be provided by the new facility. "This is an investment for the future, it gives us more hangar positions that we can think about, and will help us move more scheduled maintenance activities up here."

Southwest operates up to 240 daily departures out of the airport, which is the second busiest in its system after Chicago Midway. The Dallas-based airline is the biggest carrier at Baltimore/Washington, carrying about 69% of its traffic. Asked why the airline did not build the maintenance facility earlier given the scale of its operations at the airport, Kelly says it was a matter of "priority".

The airline invested in a network operations control centre in 2014, followed by a new reservations system that rolled out last year, he points out. "All these things take capital," says Kelly. "We've managed our maintenance needs very well up to this point… we don't have immediate problems we are trying to solve [with the new facility]."

News of the planned maintenance facility comes as the airline celebrates its 25th year of service at Baltimore/Washington. It employs more than 4,800 staff at the airport.

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