State-of-the-art Spirit hangar at Metro Airport opens

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Romulus — Spirit Airlines’ new state-of-the-art, $32 million maintenance hangar is open for business.

The airline announced in June 2015 that it would build the enormous 132,000 square foot hangar, and, so far, 80 new jobs have been added, officials say.

“Spirit has added technicians, stores management, engineers, technical trainers and tooling coordinators in making up this number,” said Kirk Thornburg, vice president of technical operations.

It now is the airline’s only indoor intermediate maintenance hangar.

There are 12 maintenance bases around the country, but the Detroit location is the only maintenance base with a hangar. Maintenance at the other locations, including Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Atlantic City among others, must be performed at the gate outdoors.

Technicians are able to perform scheduled maintenance, service, repair, modify and upgrade aircraft at the hangar, which is the largest maintenance facility, in terms of square footage, currently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, according to Jim Baumiller, director of Detroit engineering and technical support. To put it in context, Baumiller said it is larger than a football field.

It’s all about safety for the 103 aircraft in the fleet. The hangar, which opened this month, can hold three of the airline’s largest aircraft but primarily will be used for overnight maintenance and repairs.

“The No. 1 focus of any airline is always safety,” Baumiller said. “Now we can do a lot of this work indoors more efficiently and in a much more controlled environment — the best environment possible.”

The airline can handle from eight to 11 aircraft per evening on the grounds and in the facility, depending on the season. The building’s 80-foot-wide doors can slide from one side or the other to accommodate the planes entering nose or tail in.

The new hangar sits just to the west of the North and McNamara terminals next to one operated by FedEx at the back of the airport. It was built with the help of a 12-year tax abatement.

“The MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) and the airport came to ask if we would help incentivize the project,” said Tim Keyes, economic development director for Romulus. “They asked for an abatement. We offered a 10-year abatement and they came back and asked if we’d be willing to up it to 12 years and we agreed.”

Keyes added: “This is a very significant project to the region and wonderful and really good for the airline, but more destinations were also opened up because of this.”

In January, the airline announced it is providing seasonal flights to Oakland and Seattle out of Metro. The airline operates out of five gates at Metro’s North Terminal.

Spirit started in Detroit as a charter then began flying scheduled flights to Atlantic City. It moved its headquarters to Miramar, Florida, in 1999.

The Wayne County Airport Authority, which oversees development at Metro, also is happy to have the hangar.

“Aviation infrastructure creates jobs and economic opportunity,” said Brian Lassaline, an airport authority spokesman. “We are very happy that Spirit chose to build this important maintenance hangar here in Detroit, where their company first took flight. This project is evidence that with strong partnerships and teamwork we can create new, exciting opportunities for economic growth here in Detroit and throughout our region.”

Metro Airport has eight hangars that consist of carriers and other aviation facilities for smaller aircraft. Delta Air lines, which has a hub in Detroit, operates two of those hangars.

One also notices what sounds like a flurry of screeching birds inside the hangar, similar to what can be heard in the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller, “The Birds.” But a hesitant glance at the ceiling reveals no attack birds.

“We have a recording of birds of prey and birds in distress to discourage birds from coming in,” said Baumiller.

Among the other features inside the hangar are sensors for noxious gases, and 65 closed circuit cameras that go to Spirit headquarters outside in Florida.