Thanks to strong tourism, technology and convention industries, Orlando, Florida, is known as the ‘happiest place on Earth’, and is home to the largest cluster of modelling, simulation and training companies anywhere. As the number-one family destination in the world, Orlando’s continually evolving tourism industry attracted over 66 million visitors in 2015, setting a new record for a US destination. With over 120,000 hotel rooms and 20,000 vacation rental properties, Central Florida has accommodation options for everyone.

Serving this thriving region is Orlando International Airport (MCO), located in the heart of all that Central Florida has to offer, and with Orlando being located right in the middle of the state, MCO’s catchment area is the largest of any Floridian airport, with more than nine million people living within a two-hour drive of the airport.

A CIP in time

Airports can act as two-way mirrors for the communities they serve – reflective of the personality of the region while also being responsive to its vision. As the global gateway to Central Florida, Orlando International Airport has thrived as part of this symbiotic relationship for more than three decades.

With current traffic exceeding 40 million annual passengers, MCO continues to play an integral role in the popularity and development of Central Florida. The record-setting passenger activity has prompted an urgent need to increase the airport’s capacity while maintaining the highest level of customer service.

Responding to passenger demand and supporting the dynamic growth in Central Florida, the board of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has approved a $3-billion capital improvement plan (CIP) to fund several major projects designed to enhance operational efficiency, accommodate growth and expand accessibility. The objectives of the CIP are to upgrade and create new facilities that will set the standard for excellence in customer convenience.

These projects include: expansion of the ticket lobbies to incorporate new technology and provide greater capacity; improvements to the baggage handling systems for increased efficiency and security; renovations to improve international arrival processing by expanding the US Customs and Border Protection facilities; adding more gates to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft, including the A380; and replacing the automated people mover (APM) trains. Completion of these projects is expected in 2018.

City planning

In addition to the capacity enhancements in the existing terminal, progress also continues in the development of a new facility, the South Terminal, expected to be operational by the end of 2019. Phase one of the South Terminal plan includes 16 gates that will accommodate narrow-body, jumbo and superjumbo aircraft, and serve international and domestic flights.

Construction is already under way on the South Terminal APM complex – which will connect the South Terminal facilities to the existing North Terminal – as well as an intermodal terminal facility (ITF) for rail initiatives that will accommodate four separate rail systems, one of which will be a high-speed intercity link between Orlando International Airport, and the downtown city centres of Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. This line will be operated by All Aboard Florida.

MCO will be the first US airport to offer intercity rail services from an airport with the launch of the All Aboard Florida service in 2018. With 16 daily departures in each direction, All Aboard Florida will offer airlines a partnership opportunity by connecting those passengers travelling beyond MCO to South Florida and increase MCO’s catchment area by drawing passengers from the south of the state.

Today’s travellers to Central Florida demand a higher level of service and efficient connections to other modes of transportation, so it is essential that Orlando International Airport strives to stay at the forefront of innovation, customer care and improved connectivity.