Construction booming at Orlando International Airport

Eight cranes dot the southern horizon of Orlando International Airport, which is in the early stages of a $1.1 billion expansion that sets the stage for another $1.8 billion worth of work.

Construction crews and heavy-equipment operators are busy building a train depot and six-story parking garage, as well as extending a people-mover system that will connect to the main terminal a mile to the north.

“It’s a lot of explosive growth,” said Davin Ruohomaki, the airport’s senior director of planning, engineering and construction.

Along with other related improvements, such as rerouted and widened roads, the cost for the southern work is $426 million.

But other jobs are about to start, too, more than $600 million worth. Airside 4, which recently had its restrooms redone and added a reflection room for religious observance, will be rehabilitated and have its gates enlarged to handle bigger jets.

It also will improve the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area where passengers check in. Airside 4 handles much of the airport’s international travel and features airlines such as Delta, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates.

The price tag: $114 million.

The ticket lobbies on both sides of the main terminal soon will be rebuilt at a cost of $146 million and the baggage handling system is getting a $40 million face-lift.

Air sides 1 and 3 will have their shuttles linking them with the main terminal replaced at a cost of $62 million. A north cellphone waiting lot also will be opened, while the southern one will be improved. The cellphone lots, which will have permanent restrooms and Wi-Fi, will cost a total of $13 million.

And the taxiways that jets use to go between the four runways, plus the aprons around the air sides, will be improved. Along with other enhancements, that cost is around $300 million.

All told, that brings the current slate of construction to $1.1 billion.

Most of the work, including the garage, people mover and train station, should be complete by late 2017.
The southern buildings initially will serve the All Aboard Florida train that will run from the airport to Miami. But the garage, people mover and road and other improvements also will accommodate a planned $1.8 billion southern terminal that primarily would handle international travelers, the airport’s fastest-growing segment of passenger traffic.

Orlando International board members earlier this year set aside $100 million to start designing the new terminal, which could open as early as 2019 — if the airport passenger count hits 38.5 million. It was more than 36 million last year and appears to be on track to hit 37.5 million this year.

The airport’s two biggest carriers, Southwest and Delta, have opposed the southern expansion, saying it is unnecessary and could drive up ticket prices.

But a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Association found that passengers are willing to pay more for a better flying experience.

“Because travel consumers are astute, we’re not at all surprised to learn that they are willing to pay for something that provides them with a tangible benefit,” U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a release accompanying the report.

The survey, based on more than 1,000 interviews, found more than 60 percent of respondents were frustrated with air travel and 58 percent are willing to pay as much as $4 more per ticket to improve airports.

All the work in Orlando is being financed through a combination of selling bonds that typically are repaid over 30 years; grants and loans from the federal and state governments; and an extension of a $4.50 fee on every ticket into and out of the airport.


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