Southwest Airlines Working on $13 Million Pilot Training Center Expansion at Dallas HQ

Feb. 17, 2022

Southwest Airlines is ready to restart work on a long-overdue headquarters expansion that the Dallas-based carrier put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southwest is resuming construction on 127,588 square feet of space in its Leadership Education and Aircrew Development Center that will include an eight-bay flight training center for simulators, classrooms, support rooms and other infrastructure, according to a permit filed with the state.

The new construction would start just as Southwest Airlines is in dire need of as many as 8,000 employees while it tries to rebuild the company from the air travel downturn of the previous two years. In particular, airlines desperately need new pilots, and carriers are investing heavily in training academies and incentives for young pilots at regional airlines. Airlines are also facing a coming wave of retiring pilots who are mandated to step away at age 65 due to federal rules for commercial aviators.

At Southwest, the project is part of the LEAD building expansion the company started in October 2019 when it planned to construct a three-story, 414,000-square-foot space that would expand its ability to hire pilots. While the outer shell of the building was completed, about a third of the interior space was left unfinished.

The project is estimated to cost about $13 million.

Southwest expects to finish the project in 2024, said spokesman Dan Landson.

“While we’ve expanded the building, the build-out of many of the floors inside was put on hold at the beginning of COVID,” Landson said. “Now that air travel demand is returning, we’re moving forward with the finishing of the interior spaces, which will add space for our new hire training classes.

Southwest Airlines’ workforce shrank during the pandemic due to buyouts and voluntary retirements, despite $66 billion in federal payroll support to keep people employed and the industry staffed. Southwest dropped from 62,000 employees in February 2020 to less than 56,000 at the end of 2021, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Now the company is hustling to rehire employees, particularly as the global pandemic has stressed its operational ability during surges in case counts.

“We need pilots, we need flight attendants, we need ramp staffing, and you need the appropriate amount of buffer in all of those areas until we sort of see our way past COVID and understand what more normalized staffing, more normalized behaviors, more normalized sick leave looks like,” Southwest Airlines’ executive chairman and former CEO Gary Kelly said in a call with investors in January.

Southwest has already cut its flying expectations for the rest of the year due to COVID-related sick calls, the carrier announced last month.

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