Featured Posts

A Vision Takes Shape

The Future of Orlando International Airport

By Phil Brown, Executive Director, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority

A visionary perspective is vital for long-term business growth and development. However, following the visionary philosophy of “build it and they will come” is a very high-risk proposition, particularly in the highly capital intensive airport industry. Fortunately, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is facing the opposite, yet equally challenging, situation: They’re coming, so we’re building.

Traffic is currently approaching 42 million annual passengers and projections indicate a continuing upward trend. The operating capacity for existing facilities stands at 40 million annual passengers. Thus, the record-setting passenger activity at MCO has spurred an urgency to incrementally increase the capacity at the existing North Terminal Complex (NTC) as well as to add significant capacity by building new facilities south of the NTC. Visitation increases due to community investments in tourism, medical research, professional sports, business and education – all driving our accelerated pace of design, planning and construction activity.

As MCO plays an integral role in the desirability and accessibility of Central Florida, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board has maintained its long-standing approach of phased development to meet demand. A $3.1 billion Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will fund several major projects designed to address current and future needs, enhance operational efficiency and accommodate growth. Our chairman, Frank Kruppenbacher, along with fellow Aviation Authority board members, realize the importance of upgrading and creating new facilities. Their leadership has set in motion an ambitious series of construction projects that will raise the standard of excellence for modern air travel and customer convenience.

Collaboration with multiple local, national and international design, engineering and construction partners has allowed the Aviation Authority to move forward in an expeditious and cost-effective manner. The collective expertise of general consultant Schenkel Shultz, contractors Hensel Phelps and Turner-Kiewit, and designers Fentress Architects and HNTB, have given flight to both our immediate goals and our vision of the future.

Each of these companies has been vetted through a competitive selection process. In addition to undergoing rigorous and comprehensive scrutiny, each company has agreed to comply with the Aviation Authority’s small business participation goals designed to attract and utilize small, minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. These efforts to diversify and broaden participation serve to strengthen community engagement and diversify the stakeholders in the region’s premier global gateway. 

Happening Now

Construction projects, both underway and soon-to-begin, will increase North Terminal Complex capacity to over 42 million annual passengers, in a facility originally designed to handle 24 million annual passengers, and modified over the years to accommodate 38-40 million annual passengers. This will be accomplished through multiple, simultaneous projects throughout the main terminal facility and satellite airside terminals.
Projects currently underway and those set to begin include:

  • Expansion of the ticket lobbies on both A & B sides
  • Improvement of baggage handling systems
  • Replacement of automated people mover systems
  • Renovations at Airside 4, including international arrivals facility 

Ticket lobby renovation and expansion will incorporate new technology and provide greater capacity by increasing queuing and transit space while maximizing self-check-in options. New, interactive video screens behind the ticketing counters will communicate airport information and community messaging by utilizing pleasing graphics and videos. Walls have been erected to provide safety and security during construction and several counter areas have already been completed.

Improvements to the baggage handling systems will increase efficiency and security by upgrading mechanical systems to improve speed and reliability.

Automated People Mover trains to Airsides 1 & 3, which service Gates 1-59, are being replaced. The original train systems have been in continuous operation with one major renovation since the Main Terminal opened in 1981. The four, three-car trains have logged a combined total of more than two million miles of passenger transport. Within the past few months, the first set of  original trains have been removed from service, new running surfaces have been constructed and state-of-the-art trains from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America have been delivered, hoisted onto their guideways, powered up and test-driven.

Airside 4 opened in 1990 and currently serves as the main terminal for transatlantic international flights. Renovations will improve international arrivals and passenger processing by expanding the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities and adding four gates that will be capable of accommodating the largest long-range aircraft. Construction activity is currently in its initial stages.

Transportation Integration

Beyond the North Terminal Complex, we are also immersed in developing new facilities to our south. Construction is progressing rapidly on the South Airport Automated People Mover (APM) Complex and Intermodal Terminal Facility (ITF). The multi-modal portal will serve as a transportation hub as well as a capacity reliever for the North Terminal Complex. The APM will provide a direct link between MCO’s north and south terminal facilities, offering travelers the option of parking in the new 2,400 space parking garage, checking in at the South Complex and taking a short tram ride to the North Complex. The six, state-of-the-art train cars are currently on the tracks and will soon begin extensive testing.

The ITF will be the first facility in Florida to integrate rail directly into airport operations by accommodating an intercity rail line from MCO to Miami operated by All Aboard Florida. A connection to the SunRail commuter line is being planned and discussions are ongoing about a potential light rail system connecting MCO and the Orange County Convention Center. The ITF is on schedule and, when completed, will offer our customers an unmatched level of flexibility and convenience.

The fiscal benefits of this project will be realized through the creation of jobs and annual revenue generation. Construction will create approximately 1,900 jobs and once operational, the project will provide an approximate 380 permanent jobs. Annual direct, indirect and induced economic impact is estimated at $42 million per year.

Rounding out the mosaic of development projects at MCO is, perhaps, the most exciting addition to MCO since the opening of the new $300 million terminal in 1981. After much discussion and consideration of future growth scenarios and financial capacity, the Aviation Authority Board voted to approve construction of the $1.8 billion first phase of the South Terminal Complex (STC). The Board’s approval was the culmination of an intensive process to develop a facility that would address not only the airport’s projected operational demands, but reflect the community’s essence. A series of stakeholder meetings was held to gather input to ensure the new facility remains consistent with The Orlando Experience® design concept that encompasses the unique nature of the Central Florida environment and regional identity.

Phase One of the STC will open a new era in international travel to the nation’s most-visited destination and increase MCO’s capacity to more than 50 million annual passengers.

At present, our lead design team at Fentress Architects, in conjunction with HNTB, is working to complete the design of the STC’s first phase. The Aviation Authority Board has already given approval to key concepts that support the central theme of “The Boulevard,” which intuitively guides passengers through the Town Square and Palm Court interior concepts providing passengers with The Orlando Experience® by integrating imaginative multi-media areas and dynamic concessions. Another significant design aspect is using the terminal’s uppermost level for passenger arrivals breaking with conventional airport design and enhancing the arrival experience with efficiency, convenience and the ambiance of Central Florida.


  • Serves both international and domestic flights
  • Sixteen swing gates will accommodate narrow body, jumbo and super jumbo aircraft
  • Innovative baggage handling tote system with RFID tracking
  • Additional 1,250 parking spaces
  • Will follow the Sustainable Management Plan (SMP) for a planned LEED New Construction Project
  • Total building program will comprise 2.7 million square feet

When projected construction begins in the first quarter of 2017, it will signal the latest step in the continuing evolution of The Orlando Experience®.

We feel our significant development initiatives will benefit nearly all levels of the business and leisure interests that comprise our multi-faceted economy and the impact will be felt not only throughout the Central Florida region, but across the global community as well.


  • South Airport APM/ITF Complex – 2017
  • Airside 3 APM Replacement – 2017
  • North Terminal Complex Ticket Lobbies – 2018
  • Airside 1 APM Replacement – 2018
  • Airside 4 Customs Border Protection Facility – 2018
  • South Terminal Complex  Phase 1 Terminal C – 2020

Today’s travelers demand a higher level of service, so it is essential that Orlando International Airport strives to stay at the forefront of innovation, customer care and improved connectivity.

Want More i4? Subscribe to the Magazine.

About the author

i4 Business

i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment