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JetBlue is set to be the inaugural major occupant of Orlando International Airport’s (MCO) new South Terminal, which is currently under construction with an expected completion date in 2020. As part of the South Terminal announcement on May 16, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority also said that the South Terminal will likely need to add three to seven additional gates every five years in order to accommodate expected growth.
The original South Terminal construction plans called for 16 inaugural gates, capable of accommodating up to 21 aircraft. But anticipated demand has already led airport authorities to approve an additional three-gate expansion, from 16 to 19 gates total. The three additional gates would accommodate JetBlue’s increase in flights, expected to rise from 63 daily departures to 100 in coming years. JetBlue currently operates the highest number of flights to Cuba from the US, out of Orlando.
More than 45 million passengers pass through MCO each year, and the airport has long felt the growing pains of the volume increase. Back in February of this year, MCO almost fired the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and opted to privatize security at the airport instead, hoping to boost checkpoint screening times. Through negotiation and decisive measures taken to accelerate the screening process, the airport elected in March to retain the federal agency.
The airport has big plans to keep up with its rapidly increasing annual traffic, including becoming the first airport nationwide to utilize facial ID recognition for all international flights by this summer, at a cost of around $4 million for customized gates and cameras. Several airports already utilize biometric screening technology on a pilot program basis.
The airport’s rapid expansion has also led MCO to aggressively hire new workers. 200 food court positions were up for grabs at an open job fair in April.
The hiring initiative no doubt is a proactive step toward what may well be Orlando’s busiest travel season yet. Passenger count at MCO has steadily increased in recent years by about 2 million additional passengers per year. Within the first few months of 2018 alone, MCO has already jumped two spots on the “nation’s busiest airport” list, from 13th-busiest in January to its current 11th-busiest ranking as of April 24.
The South Terminal constructions are designed to facilitate rising passenger volume, although airport director Phil Brown cautioned that steady growth does not guarantee consistency.
“This is all predicated on a growth plan,” Brown told the Orlando Sentinel. “As we have seen in the past, sometimes that doesn’t happen. We saw it [with] September 11 when we dropped almost 12% in traffic, and [with] the Recession when it dropped 9%.”
The new terminal’s construction is set to be completed in stages that can be paused for lack of demand. Phase One of the South Terminal is planned to open 24 gates, with capacity for a total of 120 total gates in the distant future. The existing terminal currently has 93 gates.
Between the new South Terminal and myriad upgrades for the existing terminal, MCO anticipates spending $4.27 billion in construction and renovations. The airport estimates that the upgrades will drive revenue growth from airline and passenger charges, bonds, and aviation-authority funds to rise from $3.5 billion to $4.3 billion between 2016 and 2025.
Featured image courtesy of Orlando International Airport.
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