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A National Airlines 757-200 takes off from Windsor, Ontario, on its inaugural flight to Orlando Sanford International Airport.
A National Airlines 757-200 takes off from Windsor, Ontario, on its inaugural flight to Orlando Sanford International Airport. (Dan Janisse)

As National Airlines deepens its ties to the Orlando area, the air carrier will be looking at space for new headquarters and a maintenance facility.

National wants Class A office space for its new home base, which it wants to maintain near Orlando International Airport.

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The company will also seek to acquire an existing maintenance facility or have one built on or next to Orlando Sanford International Airport, where its commercial planes fly from, and where it is adding flights.

For its new headquarters, National Airlines wants at least 18,000 square feet, around the size of its current base of operations at the Lee Vista office building complex off S. Semoran Boulevard. National will go as high as 20,000 square feet, said Ed Davidson, the air carrier's president and chief operating officer.

The time has come for a move, Davidson told GrowthSpotter on Thursday.

"When we moved here (from Michigan) in 2013 we took an office building and tried to turn it into an airline headquarters and that didn't turn out too well."

National Airlines' decision to keep its headquarters near Orlando International Airport and not move closer to the Sanford airport, where it is growing, has to do with a desire to have close access to its business partner, Emirates Airlines, and that carrier's direct flights Dubai where National has extensive cargo operations.

Additionally, easier access for national and international clients that visit was a consideration, said Davidson.

But as for National flying passengers out of Orlando International, it's pretty unlikely, Davidson said. He cited high gate fees and extreme congestion for fliers, especially international ones that go through customs.

Davidson said the company timed a foreign visitor from landing until the time it took him to get to Walt Disney Resort to see just how hard it can be to get out of Orlando International, which is roughly 20 miles from the resort. While the location is 52 miles from Sanford International, it took the visitor 22 less minutes than when he traveled from Orlando International, Davidson said.

The proposed maintenance facility is being talked about internally at National, and would be on or near Sanford International property. It would be used for aircraft maintenance, which has become even more necessary now that National is adding flights.

The new space might be a hanger or hangers big enough to hold two Boeing 757s, and if adjacent to the airport will require the creation of a taxiway to get on site, Davidson said.

For both the maintenance facility and headquarters, National will go with existing sites, if suitable, or have the locations built and then lease them.

Right now, National Airlines is "in the discussion phase" internally regarding the new sites, although it has let Orlando Sanford Airport president Diane Crews know of its plans, Davidson said.

In November, Crews told GrowthSpotter there were about seven tracts on the airport's south and east sides, roughly 10 to 15 acres each, that the airport would like to lease for commercial use. All told, Orlando Sanford Airport has about 3,000 acres.

On Thursday, Crews said she was "thrilled" with National's expansion of flights and the possible opportunities this affords the airport.

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With the expansion will come hiring. National, which now has 256 employees in the Orlando area, wants to add 50 to 60 more over the next year.

Some of the new employees will help National carry out its latest air route expansion. The one-time government contractor that carried troops to military bases and war zones will begin, in mid-March, offering two flights a week to Aquadilla, on the east side of Puerto Rico; and increase its San Juan flights from two to three a week. In June, National Airlines will add two flights a week to New York's Macarthur Airport.

National already flies to St. Johns, Newfoundland, and Windsor, Ontario, from Sanford.

Davidson sees even more, and further, flights in National's near future. The company is looking at routes to Europe and Asia, and is in the midst of due diligence, he said.

The goals is to diversify the company's revenue to a 50/50 split between commercial and government. Right now the mix is 65 percent government, and 35 percent commercial.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at ktalley@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5176. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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