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JetBlue’s plan to restart construction on the employee lodge is a telling sign about the improving economy and climbing profits within the aviation industry. The project was started in 2006, but stalled throughout the recession until now.
With 196 rooms and 115,000 square feet, the hotel should be open in early 2015, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview Monday. The lodge will be for employees attending JetBlue University, an educational facility on the northeast corner of airport property.
Barger also said JetBlue intends to hire up to 50 people for a reservations center at the university. The jobs would pay between $9 and $14 an hour. The center is supposed to open by mid-November and, Barger said, should employ up to 500 people within five years.
JetBlue already has a call center in Salt Lake City, but wants a second one in the eastern part of the country as a backup. Barger said he also is looking for more reservation workers who can speak Spanish as JetBlue pursues more flights in the Caribbean.
The third-busiest carrier at Orlando International, JetBlue has spent $110 million on facilities at the airport, including the university and a facility for its in-flight, LiveTV entertainment subsidiary.
The low-cost carrier first announced its lodge plan in 2006 and even held a ceremonial groundbreaking, but quickly delayed construction as fuel prices soared and air travel fell throughout the industry. A publicly traded company, JetBlue was coming off consecutive quarterly losses as well.
But JetBlue, based in Long Island, N.Y., has recovered and returned to a growth mode. It is trading at roughly $6.30 a share on the NASDAQ, about a dollar below its yearly high and a $1.50 above its annual low.
Barger said the lodge will be important for the camaraderie of JetBlue employees. They will be able to eat and sleep there, which will be within walking distance of the training center, which, among other things, holds flight simulators.
Pilots in training could stay at the lodge for as many as six weeks, while other crew members could check out within three weeks.
“Culture is just so important,” Barger said. “Today, you lose everybody to the local hotels.”
The lodge would have four stories in the room tower, but otherwise would stand two-and-a-half floors tall. It would feature a full-service kitchen with a fitness center with a pool, softball field and basketball court and meeting rooms on each floor to encourage group studies.
The building initially was expected to have almost 300 rooms, but that number was whittled down to allow for a bigger kitchen and more collaborative space, said JetBlue spokesman Sebastian White.
JetBlue operates 55 to 60 flights daily at Orlando International, with 22 destinations, including six international cities, most in Central and South America. During the past year, it delivered 4.7 million passengers to Orlando. Barger said the airline is considering adding flights from Orlando to Haiti and Colombia.
Orlando International Director Phil Brown said he was heartened by Barger’s announcement.
“As the economy in Central Florida expands , we welcome the opportunity to work with JetBlue as they invest in a training-support facility at their world-class complex at Orlando International Airport,” Brown said in an email.
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.