How a new pilot training facility in SLC will have a ‘profound impact’ on Delta Air Lines

“We’re committed. We’re going to be here for a long time,” says executive as the carrier spreads its wing in Utah’s capital.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "For the West Coast pilots, it's a game changer," said Delta Captain T.J. Bates, center, of Delta's new pilot training center in Salt Lake City on June 29, 2023. The new 47,000-square-foot facility, slated to open in 2025, will have the ability to host up to 10 flight simulators.

What is now a dusty patch of dirt west of Salt Lake City International Airport will soon become Delta Air Lines’ largest investment in training outside of its Atlanta headquarters.

Officials from Delta busted out the shovels Thursday for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the carrier’s new pilot training center at the corner of Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart drives. When the roughly 47,000-square-foot center opens in 2025, it will host classrooms, briefing rooms and four flight simulators.

“We looked at a lot of other places to go to,” said Brad Sheehan, Delta’s vice president of flight training and standards, “and this one, for a variety of reasons, stood out to us.”

Delta will lease the land from the airport into the 2050s and have the capacity to expand the center to host up to 10 flight simulators.

“We’re committed,” Sheehan said. “We’re going to be here for a long time.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brad Sheehan, the vice president of Delta's flight training and standards, talks about the importance of Delta's new pilot training center, June 29, 2023.

Setting up shop in Salt Lake City made a lot of sense for the airline, Sheehan said, because about a quarter of the carrier’s 16,000 pilots are based west of the Mississippi River. They will have an easier time getting to Utah than to Atlanta, where the company opened its first training center in 1968.

About 5,400 Delta employees call the Beehive State home, and more than 1,000 of the company’s pilots are officially based in Salt Lake City.

John Laughter, Delta’s executive vice president and chief of operations, said the new center will have a “profound impact” on the company’s training capabilities and improve access to those opportunities.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta handed out commemorative coins during the groundbreaking ceremony June 29, 2023, on a new pilot training center in Salt Lake City.

“This training facility represents our commitment to a brighter future,” Laughter said, “where Delta continues to soar to new heights, driven by our unwavering determination and the trust of our valued passengers.”

Thursday’s event marked the carrier’s first public acknowledgment of the planned training center since the first details on the project emerged last year, and the latest step in the company’s expanding footprint in the Salt Lake City market.

“We are so fortunate to have a partner like Delta Air Lines,” Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, “whose commitment to Salt Lake City is evident every time we break ground or we open a new project or expand our partnership.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall addresses the crowd during the groundbreaking ceremony of Delta's new pilot training center, June 29, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

In December, the company finalized a deal to keep a hub in Utah’s capital until at least 2044, with an option to extend the contract another decade beyond that.

Then, in January, the carrier announced a deal to revive the Delta Center arena name at the downtown home of the Utah Jazz.

Delta opened five new gates on the airport’s expanded concourse A in May and has additional gates scheduled to come on line this year.

When construction wraps on both existing concourses of the new airport, Delta will occupy all of A gates and more than a third of the B gates.