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United Airlines opened its new widebody aircraft maintenance hangar at Washington Dulles International Airport on Nov. 21.

The 125,000-square-foot hangar, the largest at the airport, will enable United to perform indoor maintenance on two widebody aircraft — such as 777’s and 787’s — simultaneously.

“With a 130-foot-tall ceiling, automatic 100-foot-tall doors and a built-in 15-ton crane, we can essentially perform any service on two widebody jets simultaneously in here,” said United Northeast Managing Director James Hammer.

Up to eight narrow-body aircraft could potentially also be housed in the heated facility in the event of a snow or other weather-related emergency, Hammer said.

“If we had to, I could stack them all in here in some sort of aircraft-carrier-like formation,” he said.

United invested nearly $45 million to construct its new hangar with the latest in safety features, fortifying it with an 18-inch-thick cement floor.

Inside, 80-foot-tall mechanized JLG lifts enable mechanics to perform both routine and extensive repairs to the outside of any aircraft. The facility is so large that workers have three-wheeled bicycles equipped with baskets to carry tools and supplies from one end to the other.

“We also have an actual Zamboni to clean the floors with,” said Hammer.

In case of fire, a flame-retardant foam-dispensing unit can dispense nine feet of foam throughout the entire facility.

United officials said it took 600 construction workers about a year to complete.

“This is the best we have in all of United. It’ll be the model for all the hangars we are building in the future,” said United Airlines chairman, president and CEO Jeff Smisek, who was on hand during the hangar’s unveiling Nov. 21. “Consumers want us to invest like this.”

United employs approximately 300 technical operations employees at Dulles, and has nearly 6,000 employees throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

“The close relationship between Dulles and United goes back decades, and this facility represents yet another important investment in this key market,” said Greg Hart, United’s senior vice president for technical operations. “Our new maintenance hangar, coupled with additional improvements in our terminals, gate areas, lounges and employee facilities, will deliver greater reliability for our customers and enhance their overall travel experience.”

The investment in Dulles did not go unnoticed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

“The opening of United’s new state-of-the-art maintenance hangar further solidifies Dulles International’s position as a world-class hub for aviation,” said Jack Potter, MWAA’s president and CEO.

“This hangar is a significant investment in the airport and the region, and it will support smooth, efficient travel for the more than 14 million United passengers who fly through Dulles each year.”

United also has maintenance hangars at its hubs in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is currently nearing completion on another widebody hangar at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com