Following mass layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 784,000 individuals were employed in the airline industry nationwide as of November, marking an 18.6% increase from May 2020, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
United Airlines officials said its newly expanded 56,000-square-foot Global Inflight Training Center at IAH will train and hire 15,000 workers and create 1,800 jobs in the Greater Houston area in 2023.
According to Phil Griffith, vice president of operations for United Airlines at IAH, the air travel provider has continued work on several projects through the pandemic, including the $32 million training center and a roughly $100 million early baggage system facility.
“Given our decisions made during the pandemic, the airline is in a unique position as it relates to hiring and job growth,” Griffith said.
While those projects were not included in IAH’s International Terminal Redevelopment Program—which aims to overhaul the airport’s international terminal complex—Houston Airport System officials said the project has continued largely uninterrupted despite challenges posed by the pandemic.
Stephanie Wiggins, chief economic development officer for Partnership Lake Houston, touted the effect the airport has had on the area.
“Airports provide local businesses with access to the global market ... [and] enable the movement of people and goods,” Wiggins said, noting Houston airports contribute more than $36 billion annually to the city’s economy. “Because of this asset, the Houston region ... is able to retain and attract businesses to the region and our community, which brings jobs and economic growth.”
Global Inflight Training Center
United Airlines officials said the new training center more than doubles the size of their previous facility with the addition of new classrooms, training stations and an aquatic center featuring a 125,000-gallon pool that will allow flight attendant trainees to practice safe evacuation strategies in the case of a water landing.
With the training center’s opening, Griffith said the company is in position to continue hiring new employees following the company’s heavy workforce losses during the pandemic. United Airlines lost nearly 29,000 employees nationwide from November 2019 to November 2020, U.S. Department of Transportation data shows, representing roughly 31.6% of its national workforce.
“With an increased fleet and renewed travel demand, the airline hired 15,000 people in 2022 and is on track to add another 15,000 in 2023 networkwide,” Griffith said.
Griffith also noted United Airlines’ $100 million early baggage system facility at IAH is slated to be completed this fall. The new facility is designed to temporarily store individual bags that arrive early until their specific departure.
While the new baggage system facility is not a part of the Houston Airport System’s $1.36 billion International Terminal Redevelopment Program, Griffith said the facility will be connected to the new lobby included in that project.
Terminal redevelopment program
Work on the International Terminal Redevelopment Program, which has been under construction since 2019, continued largely unimpeded throughout the pandemic, according to Augusto Bernal, director of communications for the Houston Airport System.
The project, which is on track to be largely completed by late 2024, will include an overhaul of the international terminal complex that will accommodate more than 15 international carriers.
Officials noted the scope of the program is composed of two large projects. The North Concourse Project includes the refurbishment of the existing Terminal D facility and the demolition and construction of the new Terminal D West Concourse.
Additionally, the Central Processor and Federal Inspection Services Project includes the demolition of the existing Terminal D-E parking garage, roadway modifications, construction of the new International Central Processor building and modifications to the existing Federal Inspection Services building.
While Bernal said the Houston Airport System did not have to reduce or furlough any staff members due to the pandemic, he noted the cost of its $1.36 billion terminal redevelopment has risen by roughly 1.7%, or about $22 million.
Bernal said the cost increases included additional scope within the project, such as a new detention pond, restroom renovations and additional investment in traffic mitigation measures. He noted officials were able to absorb about $6 million in rising costs within the budget by ordering materials in advance and storing them for later use.
“We are thrilled with the management of the budget on this project as so many others across the country have been impacted at a much greater scale,” he said.