Orlando Airport, the world’s seventh largest, will open a shiny $3 billion terminal and seek more flights

Like many airports, Orlando International Airport has continued to build during the pandemic. Not only have changed travel habits made MCO the seventh-busiest airport in the world in 2021, but work has also continued on a new $2.8 billion terminal that will open next month.

The new terminal covers 300 acres and adds 15 gates, increasing the airport’s capacity by approximately 10 to 12 million passengers. In 2021, the airport ranked seventh in the world with 40.3 million passengers. In 2019, he ranked 31st worldwide with 50.6 million passengers. Restrictions on pandemic travel patterns have sharply curtailed international travel, while domestic leisure travel within the United States has quickly resumed, particularly to Florida and other parts of the South.

What sets Terminal C apart from the modernity, the panoramic views and the 1.8 million square feet of space, are the technological improvements, especially in security and baggage handling. “We are excited to deploy a terminal that is at the forefront of passenger convenience and leverages technology,” said CEO Kevin Thibault. The technology is so splashy, Thibault said, that it could increase airport traffic, especially once it connects to a rail line that will offer 18 daily trips between the airport and South Florida. crowded. Orlando overtook Miami International as Florida’s busiest airport in 2017. Meanwhile, counties surrounding Orlando grew rapidly, before and during the pandemic.

Part of the technological improvement relates to security, at the gates as well as at the Transportation Security Administration security posts. At the gates, passengers will be allowed to board using facial recognition. “We will have this technology at each gate, instead of a boarding pass and a scan,” Thibault said. Meanwhile, TSA security has been upgraded. Terminal C will have eight lanes for TSA clearance, with the option to add four more. A new feature is that if a bag screening conveyor slows down, officers at a different station, using a different scanner, can take over and scan the bags. “If lane four has a backup, or if an agent is distracted, agents at a remote station can look at baggage from another location,” Thibault said.

It won’t be as visible, but the airport will also have a baggage handling status, which uses radio frequency identification (RFID) when baggage is transported from the plane to baggage claim. At Terminal C, bags will be transported primarily in containers fitted with tracking chips, reducing time on conveyor belts. The chips will make it easier to track, and the bins won’t block the tapes like bags sometimes do, and the conveyor belts will be closer to the plane. Additionally, the new system has baggage storage capacity, which will come in handy when thousands of cruise passengers arrive at the airport from Port Canaveral, the second-busiest cruise port. “They come from a cruise a few hours before (flight departures),” Thibault said. “It’s really a benefit for passengers to put this bag in the system earlier.”

An airport brochure touting the new terminal includes the question “How many ‘wow’ factors can you fit into an airport terminal?” Along with baggage handling, automated TSA lanes and facial recognition at gates, he cites Bluetooth navigation beacons for travelers, a virtual ramp control system to provide controllers with unobstructed visibility of airport traffic, standard designs of ecological construction and magnificent views.

Terminal C is scheduled for its first outgoing international flight on September 20, followed by the opening of domestic operations on September 26. JetBlue will be the anchor tenant, joined by international carriers such as Aer Lingus Azul, British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa. Orlando’s three terminals will have international arrivals capacity.

In 2023, Terminal C will gain high-speed rail access when Brightline trains begin serving Miami, a three-hour trip via West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Terminal C is connected to the airport’s intermodal terminal: the first train made a test run in May. Currently, Brightline is approximately 80% complete.

When it comes to airport growth, changes in pandemic travel patterns have taken Chinese airports off the list of the world’s busiest airports and pushed up airports such as Charlotte, Denver and Orlando. With the return of international travel, “the statistics will change, but we are optimistic that we can stay at the top of the list,” said Thibault. “Our national numbers are back to where they were, and that we did in a short time (indicates) Central Florida continues to grow.” Most international carriers, which served Europe and Latin America, have returned. Additionally, in March, Avianca started Medellin-Orlando and Virgin Atlantic started Edinburgh-Orlando. Delta will resume Orlando-Amsterdam in October.

Thibault became Orlando’s manager in March, after two years as Florida’s transportation secretary.

A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1985 and soon moved to Florida, working as a civil engineer in both the public and private sectors. He applied for the airport job, he said, because it encompasses many aspects of transportation, including highways, parking, cruise lines and, soon, high-speed rail. “POINT
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had a lot of interface with other modes of transportation,” he said. “I already knew the airport very well (which) was evolving to become a multimodal hub.”

An unusual feature in Orlando is the wide split among the seven major carriers, each with at least 7% of passengers. In June, Southwest had 20% of Orlando’s passengers; Spirit had 16%; Delta had 13%; Frontier had 12%; the American had 11%; JetBlue had 9% and United had 8%. When asked why United’s share was so low, Thibault replied: “That’s a great question. I have on my to-do list to meet with Mr. Kirby (CEO Scott Kirby) to see what they think of Orlando. He added that he has met or will meet with the CEOs of all major carriers at the airport, given the expansion opportunities provided by Terminal C. Startup carrier Breeze began service from Charleston, SC in June .

Regarding international aspirations, Thibault said: “It is well known, we would be delighted to serve Asia. Phil Brown, my predecessor, worked hard on this before the pandemic and had some great conversations, but the pandemic took our breath away. We need to review this. He said Tokyo and Seoul are particularly desirable as nonstop destinations.

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