ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando International Airport’s new south-side Terminal C is expected to open in 2021 but may quickly outgrow its new space.

  • Orlando International Airport is Florida's busiest airport
  • Current 2 terminals are 8M passengers over annual capacity
  • Terminal C under construction, expected to open in 2021

Phil Brown, the CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which manages the airport, said during a tour Monday that OIA saw a record 48 million passengers in the past year — and that could climb to 50 million passengers by year’s end. 

OIA is the busiest airport in the state and 11th busiest in the country. The airport’s current two terminals were designed to handle an annual capacity of about 40 million.

Brown estimates the new Terminal C will help expand overall capacity by 11 million passengers with the addition of 19 new gates.

Original plans called for just 16 new gates, but growth predictions led airport directors to expand the plan.

Terminal C is expected to include new tech security features for Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Patrol. Brown said officials are also installing a RFID-focused system that will allow passengers to pick up baggage on the main level of arrival instead of having to go down multiple levels for baggage and vehicle pickup.

Orlando's terminal expansion is coming at a time when industry advocacy groups say airports across the U.S. are struggling to keep up with investments.

Airports Council International estimates that U.S. airports need more than $100 billion in infrastructure upgrades in the next five years. 

Orlando International Airport does not receive taxpayer funding, so it relies on revenues from parking, airline fees, concession revenue, and other means to generate income. 

Its $2.8 billion Terminal C project is giving a glimpse into the overall economic growth in Central Florida. 

A 2014 study by the Florida Department of Transportation estimated that aviation accounted for $144 billion in the Sunshine State, including  $31 billion from OIA, of which Brown says a new study would show a higher figure. 

"There's a lot of investment, not only in the leisure sector, theme parks, hotels, but in business as well," Brown said. 

JetBlue, which will to hold most of the gate activity in the new terminal, is expected to expand its training center and operations near MCO.

Audit firm KMPG is developing a 55-acre global training facility in the Lake Nona community and is expected to account for 800 to 1,000 visitors coming through OIA every week.

More visitors mean more sales and tax revenues to support the area. But for projects such as Terminal C, it also means rising prices for labor and supplies. 

"The construction market in Central Florida is tight," Brown said. "You've got the I-4 Ultimate (project), you've got Star Wars, all of the Disney, all of the Universal, all of the SeaWorld activity, all of the private sector that's driving the market, and in some instances not enough trades to meet the market."

Brown said materials such as steel for the originally planned 16 gates were bought prior to construction, but now crews are working to keep costs in check now that the plans have expanded to 19 gates. 

Terminal C is part of a larger development program, including the Intermodal Terminal Facility. That station's parking garage is already open, but it won't be till 2022 till SunRail and Virgin Trains begin service there.