Maintaining Flexibility and Redefining the Passenger Experience
Orlando's new South Terminal C focuses on flexibility for the future, a unique journey for travelers
By Phillip N. Brown, AAE, Chief Executive Officer | Greater Orlando Aviation Authority
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Orlando International Airport was one of the fastest-growing airports in North America with 2019 passenger totals over 51 million, which had been increasing by approximately three million each year for five consecutive years. The heightened demand could be attributed to a strong regional economy, explosive population growth in the Orlando metro area, expansion of the region’s medical, simulation and infrastructure sectors, its continued ranking as a top tourist destination and the exponential growth of air travel across the country.
To keep pace with demand, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) embarked upon a $4.27 billion capital improvement and modernization program, the largest expansion in the airport’s history. Completions to date include modernizing our North Terminal Complex with ticket lobby modifications, expansion of the west security checkpoint along with expanding and modernizing the Federal Inspection Station, replacing the automated people mover systems to airsides 1 and 3 and improving the baggage system. In addition, we have completed and opened a new standalone South Automated People Mover / Intermodal Terminal Facility, and parking garage, where intercity high-speed trains will connect travelers with Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, a first for a U.S. airport. Planning is already underway for expanding Brightline to a connection from Orlando to Tampa, with a stop at Walt Disney World as well.
Our new, world class South Terminal C is on track for substantial completion in February 2022.
A faster curb-to-gate process
At every touchpoint, South Terminal C will enhance the passenger experience either by expediting it, personalizing it or creating “wow” moments.
To accomplish our goal of moving passengers from curb to gate more efficiently, we identified the touchpoints for a variety of travelers and the areas and processes that slow them down. For example, business travelers typically don’t need many touchpoints between the curb and their aircraft seat, so we are providing self-check-in kiosks, which allow them to bypass ticket counters and agents.
On the other hand, a family of five who rarely travels may need multiple touchpoints. For them, we have multilingual, multicultural ambassadors, ticketing counters and ample wayfinding signage.
A new, welcoming layout
Passengers will enjoy Florida’s world-famous sunshine during their South Terminal C experience. A towering glass skylight atrium, known as The Boulevard, extends the length of the new landside terminal to the airside concourse hub, serving as a subtle wayfinder throughout the main passenger corridors.
Instead of migrating to the terminal’s lower level to claim their baggage, domestic and international arriving passengers will be reunited with their luggage in the sunny arrival hall on the terminal’s top floor. A new terminal-wide high-speed individual baggage carrier system, selected for its lean, space-optimizing vertical configuration, allows for an elevated system and facilitates GOAA’s inverted terminal concept. It marks another first for an entire terminal facility the U.S.
The system transports each piece of baggage on an individual tote, equipped with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag, which allows us to continually track each bag’s exact location. Other benefits include:
- Shorter wait times. The system is designed to meet our goal of five-and-a-half minutes in-system time with no bag taking longer than 15 minutes.
- Early arrival bag storage. Departing passengers can check in and drop off their bags at the terminal as early as they wish for a hands-free experience. The space will hold up to 2,000 pieces of luggage.
- No oversized baggage restrictions. The airport also will be the first in North America to accommodate a mixture of standard-sized and oversized baggage in one size of container, meaning golf clubs, strollers and wheelchairs will arrive by baggage carousel along with the passenger’s other luggage.
Expedited customs processing
Biometric facial recognition for international arriving and departing passengers will reduce U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing times from 2 minutes to about 45 seconds, provided no questions or secondary interviews are needed.
No matter where passengers go in South Terminal C, they will only have to proceed through one Transportation Security Administration checkpoint. Our automated screening lanes will handle up to 40 minutes of queued passengers without the lines spilling into other terminal areas. When changes in security processes occur, access panels, built into the flooring, will let us quickly and easily reconfigure the checkpoint.
Rich use of multimedia
The Authority has invested in three large-scale interactive digital electronic media exhibits to help communicate The Orlando Experience® and create wonderful, unexpected vacation memories before passengers leave the terminal.
In the landside terminal, both arriving and departing passengers will encounter the “Portal,” the terminal building’s signature electronic media feature. A set of multimedia screens, featuring lifelike LED 8K technology, is mounted on a custom-built helix-like steel frame that spirals up through the terminal’s three floors, making the Portal visible to all. The video screens will capture constantly changing images of Central Florida’s natural beauty, attractions, activities and unique images of the region’s transformative history from agribusiness to space.
When travelers experience this imaginative concept, we want them to have a sense that no destination is unreachable.
Palm Court, the grand gathering hub where the airside’s north and west concourses intersect, features a 30-foot-tall, video spectacular called the “Moment Vault.” Three large video walls, viewed from outside or inside the Moment Vault, will show Florida’s beaches, botanical gardens — and perhaps even rocket launches. As passengers watch the videos, cameras will capture their silhouettes and embed their likeness into the iconic Central Florida scenes, creating memorable moments worthy of family selfies.
In the north concourse, passengers will walk along “Windows on Orlando,” a 60-foot-long by 28-foot-tall video wall. The three giant, contiguous screens can work together or independently to make passengers feel as if they are swimming with manatees or walking along a beach with ocean waves washing toward their feet.
Unique retail experiences
Cape Canaveral and our world-famous theme parks will have retail outlets in the new South Terminal C. Disney World and Universal Studios also will have two-story stores, featuring immersive media displays on the outside.
Traversing from South Terminal C through the Ground Transportation Facility, passengers will find yet another first for a U.S. airport hub: the South Airport Automated People Mover Complex and Intermodal Terminal Facility. This fully integrated transportation facility offers immediate access to rental cars, taxis, private vehicles, buses and shuttles – and in 2022, high-speed rail service from Orlando to Miami in less than 4 hours.
Flexibility to accommodate demand
To help our passengers leave and arrive on-time, even during peak travel times and as demand for air travel increases further, we built flexibility into every aspect of South Terminal C.
Each of our new 15 “swing” gates will accommodate domestic and international flights and multiple aircraft, based on demand.
We will have the option in the future to use remote hardstands for boarding and deplaning as well as aircraft remote parking to help increase gate throughput. After passengers deplane, an aircraft will push back to the hardstand to be serviced, cleaned and provisioned while another aircraft pulls up to the same gate and boards or unloads its passengers, enabling more turns per gate.
And, our multi-aircraft ramp system (MARS) gates can service a super jumbo or a normal, narrow-body aircraft at the same time without impeding the flow of traffic on the apron. When the terminal is in narrow-body configuration, our 15 Phase 1 gates will be able to hold up to 19 aircraft.
Connecting with the person, not just the passenger
Designing the terminal of the future is not simply about creating efficiencies and capacity. For us, it’s about creating a personal experience for both the frequent traveler and first-time flyer. Our South Terminal C will make air travel more enjoyable and relaxing, and position Orlando International Airport as a memorable part of every traveler’s journey.
South Terminal C innovations
- The U.S.’s first terminal-wide, state-of-the-art RFID baggage handling system
- 100% automated TSA screening lanes
- “Bags first” processing for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Federal Inspection Station
- 100% facial recognition and iris scans of international arrivals and departures
- Total virtual ramp control by camera
- Fully integrated rail-air-ground transportation
Ensuring successful program implementation
To maintain day-to-day operations while modernizing the North Terminal Complex and building a new South Terminal C, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has innovatively deployed industry-standard program management practices while adding our own proven systems and procedures. Following are examples of both:
- Determining budget, then scope
Before we begin a project of any size, we determine what we can afford. Orlando International Airport is a heavy leisure airport with sensitive price points. To be mindful of overall airline costs, we maximized a range of funding types — from passenger facility charges, now capped at $4.50, and customer facility fees to Airport Improvement Program funds and bond financing, derived from having one of the best airport credit ratings in the country.
We work diligently to maintain a conservative debt portfolio, have sufficient cash on hand and keep our current cost per enplaned passenger at manageable levels. Some of our staff have traveled to major European airports to collect lessons learned on opening large facilities.
- Staffing up
Our operational readiness team is leading the effort to identify the number of employees and necessary skillsets needed to operate both the revamped North Terminal Complex and the new South Terminal C efficiently and effectively. New employees receive on-the-job training, handling passenger loads in the North Terminal Complex. Some will transition to the South Terminal once it opens.
Other workforce additions include:
- 3. Maintaining the vision
We let those charged with executing the program — the architects, engineers, construction managers and operational team focus on the details of each project while we keep our focus on the big picture and the 360-degree vision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phil Brown was recognized as one of Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People of 2019 for his leadership of the nation’s 10th busiest airport, which handled more than 51 million annual passengers in 2019 and employs more than 20,000 workers. He manages Orlando International Airport’s $3.8 billion capital improvement plan to enhance the main terminal and construct a new South Terminal. Brown also has been recognized by the Florida Department of Transportation as the Aviation Professional of the Year.