Orlando Airport, the seventh-busiest in the world, will open a shiny $3 billion terminal and aim for more flights
Like many airports, Orlando International Airport continued to build during the pandemic. Changing travel habits have not only made MCO the seventh-busiest airport in the world in 2021, but also continued work on a new $2.8 billion terminal that will open next month.
The new terminal covers 300 acres and adds 15 gates, increasing airport capacity by an estimated 10 to 12 million passengers. In 2021, the airport ranked seventh in the world with 40.3 million passengers. In 2019 she took 31st placeSt in the world with 50.6 million passengers. Pandemic-related travel restrictions caused international travel to drop sharply, while U.S. domestic vacation traffic recovered quickly, particularly in Florida and other parts of the South.
What distinguishes Terminal C, apart from modernity, far-reaching views and an area of 1.8 million square meters, are technological improvements, especially in the areas of security and baggage handling. “We are excited to launch a terminal that leads the way in passenger comfort and leverages technology,” said CEO Kevin Thibault. The technology is so sparkling, Thibault said, that it could boost airport traffic, especially when linked to a rail line that will offer 18 daily trips between the airport and densely populated South Florida. Orlando overtook Miami International as Florida’s busiest airport in 2017. Meanwhile, the counties surrounding Orlando have been growing rapidly both before and during the pandemic.
Some of the technology improvements are related to security, both at the gates and at the Transportation Security Administration security stations. At the gates, passengers are released for boarding via facial recognition. “We will have this technology at every gate, instead of boarding passes and scanning,” Thibault said. Meanwhile, TSA security has been improved. Terminal C will have eight lanes for TSA clearance, with the capacity to add four more. A new feature is that when a bag inspection conveyor slows down, agents at another station using a different scanner can take over and scan the bags. “If lane four has a backup or an agent is distracted, agents at a remote station can view the baggage from somewhere else,” Thibault said.
It won’t be as visible, but the airport will also have the baggage handling stand, which uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as bags are transported from the plane to baggage claim. At Terminal C, the bags are mainly transported in containers equipped with tracking chips, reducing the time on the conveyor belts. The chips make tracking easier, and also the containers don’t block the belts like bags sometimes do, and the conveyor belts are closer to the plane. Additionally, the new system will have luggage storage, which will be helpful when thousands of cruise passengers arrive at the airport from nearby Port Canaveral, the second largest cruise port. “They’re coming from a cruise hours before (departure),” Thibault said. “It’s really a benefit for passengers to get this bag into the system early.”
An airport brochure promoting the new terminal includes the question, “How many wow factors can fit in an airport terminal?” In addition to baggage handling, automated TSA lanes and facial recognition at the gates, Bluetooth navigation beacons for travelers, a virtual ramp control system, which offers air traffic controllers an unobstructed view of airport traffic, environmentally friendly building standard designs and beautiful views.
The first international departure from Terminal C is scheduled for September 20, followed by the opening of domestic operations on September 26. JetBlue will be the anchor tenant, along with international airlines such as Aer Lingus Azul, British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa. All three Orlando terminals will have international arrivals.
In 2023, Terminal C will have bullet train access when Brightline trains begin service to Miami, a three-hour journey via West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Terminal C is connected to the airport’s intermodal terminal facility: the first train completed a test run in May. Brightline is currently about 80% complete.
As for airport growth, changes in travel patterns from the pandemic have removed Chinese airports from the list of the world’s busiest airports and boosted airports like Charlotte, Denver and Orlando. With international travel returning, “stats will change, but we’re optimistic we can stay at the top of the list,” Thibault said. “Our domestic numbers are back where they were and that we’ve made it in a short amount of time (indicates) that Central Florida continues to grow.” Most international airlines serving Europe and Latin America have returned. Additionally, in March, Avianca launched Medellin-Orlando and Virgin Atlantic launched Edinburgh-Orlando. Delta will resume Orlando-Amsterdam in October.
Thibault became a director of Orlando in March after serving as Florida Secretary of Transportation for two years.
A native of Fall River, Ma., he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1985 and quickly relocated to Florida, where he worked as a civil engineer in both the public and private sectors. He applied for the job at the airport, he said, because it encapsulates many aspects of transportation, including freeways, parking lots, cruise ships and soon high-speed trains. “POINT
An unusual feature in Orlando is its broad split among the seven largest airlines, each accounting for at least 7% passengers. In June, Southwest had 20% of Orlando’s passengers; Ghost had 16%; Delta had 13%; limit had 12%; Americans had 11%; JetBlue had 9% and United had 8%. When asked why United’s share is so low, Thibault replied: “That’s a great question. I have on my to-do list to meet Mr. Kirby (CEO Scott Kirby) to see what their thoughts are on Orlando.” He added that he has met or will meet CEOs of all the airport’s leading airlines , given the expansion possibilities that Terminal C allows. Startup airline Breeze began service in Charleston, SC in June.
Referring to international endeavors, Thibault said: “It is known that we would like to do business in Asia. Phil Brown, my predecessor, worked hard on it before the pandemic and had some very good conversations, but the pandemic has taken the wind out of our sails. We have to catch up on that.” Tokyo and Seoul are particularly popular as non-stop destinations.
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