Today’s news:

JetBlue begins construction of new hangar at JFK

Forest Hills-based JetBlue Airways broke ground Friday on a new maintenance hangar and technical support building that together will total 102,000 square feet of new construction at Kennedy Airport.

Dave Barger, JetBlue president and chief operating officer, joined Borough President Helen Marshall in launching the $45 million project that will include a 70,000-square-foot hangar capable of holding three Airbus 320 aircraft and a 32,000-square-foot office facility to house the airline's technical support operations.

"These are exciting times for JetBlue," Barger said. "With these new facilities, our technical operations crew will have the space and resources they need to efficiently handle our maintenance operations as we continue to grow and solidify our great future in New York."

Borough, city and state officials praised JetBlue for expanding its operations at JFK in the face of an industrywide slump that has resulted in record-low airline employment levels among Queens residents. JetBlue has more than 2,800 employees based in New York City with a majority living near and working at Kennedy Airport.

Barger said the project was slated to be completed in December 2004.

JetBlue will hire 200 additional employees to work at the new sites and house 400 existing crew members there from the airline's technical support operations.

Construction, which is being supplemented with $50 million in city tax-exempt financing, will take place on the site of building 81 and nearby building 179 at JFK, Barger said. Building 81 will be renovated and building 179 will be demolished and rebuilt.

Marshall said she and the borough of Queens will support JetBlue in its endeavors to expand at Kennedy Airport.

"We welcome you to Queens and we are delighted that you are here," she said. "We will do everything we can to help you."

JetBlue is also planning to build a new terminal at Kennedy Airport and expand its Forest Hills headquarters, Barger said.

In another development, JetBlue also announced it planned to build a $160 million flight training school and maintenance hanger in Orlando, Fla. that would provide 150 jobs.

The airline said the 80,000-square-foot pilot training facility will include cabin simulators, classrooms, cabin crew training equipment, a firefighting training station and administration offices. It will be used to train JetBlue pilots and inflight crew members along with technical operations and customer service crews. Barger said there will also be a neighboring JetBlue University based there.

He said JetBlue executives decided to base that facility in Orlando because it was near an already established training center in Miami.

The Florida maintenance hanger will encompass 70,000 square feet with space to work on three Airbus A320 jetliners at the same time.

"JetBlue had a choice where to locate their first ever flight training center and maintenance hanger," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, "and they chose Florida."

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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