DALLAS — What's now just a pile of dirt will play a big part in the future of Southwest Airlines.
Airline officials broke ground Monday for a building that will serve as its new nerve center.
The building site is right behind the DART Green Line station on Denton Drive. The addition will be home to offices for training, crew scheduling and customer services.
Perhaps most importantly, it will be home for a new operations center to keep the airline running in dangerous weather.
The Southwest Airlines Operations Coordination Center tracks an average 3,400 flights a day, reacting to any events affecting the network. The center's importance can't be overstated.
"If this area stops, this operations coordination center shuts down, the airline shuts down," explained Steve West, senior director of the facility.
In building a new home for the center, Southwest is fortifying its ability to track a growing fleet, and to keep its jets running when weather threatens.
Two years ago, as tornadoes skipped through West Dallas and then to the Love Field area, Southwest evacuated operations center employees for about 15 minutes to a safe part of the company headquarters.
"It was an eye-opener that we need to do something, and fairly quickly," West said.
The new center will be designed to withstand a tornado with 165 mph winds.
"This will be a hardened building," said Southwest vice president Bob Montgomery. "It'll be designed to withstand power outages, thunderstorms, tornadoes... anything Mother Nature might throw at us."
The headquarters addition with the new operations center is scheduled to be ready for business in 2014.