Orlando's new airport uses best of decade

A futuristic, energy-efficient airport now under construction here is the type of air terminal that planners expect to be designing in one form or another in the years ahead.

While not totally pioneer in scope, the $300 million Orlando International embodies the best parts of modern air-terminal design over the last decade. The layout of the facility is structured to avoid the "terminal sprawl" often found when a smaller airport simply attaches new additions to accommodate burgeoning increases in air traffic.

The terminal designers have split landside and airside functions into separate buildings linked by efficient, track-mounted, people-moving trams. Landside needs, such as ticketing and baggage handling, are situated on different floors of a multilevel building, and curbside gate ticketing is provided.

Energy usage is monitored by a complex computer network that feeds heat, air conditioning, and light to various parts of the terminal according to need.

Daytime lighting is often replaced by an extensive skylight system, and heat waste from broilers and condensers is recycled. A $2 million landscape project uses extensive foliage inside and outside to buffer airplane noise.

"Some variation of this will be where it's going in the future," says Dick Haury, head of the J. E. Greiner design team responsible for the Orlando terminal.

"We'll be looking for space utilization and energy conservation," he adds. "The big advantage of this design is that it gives you space in which to evolve for future air transportation. This design could be useful for a thousand years."

The advent of vertical takeoffs shouldn't really affect the use of the landside/airside concept, Mr. Haury explains.

"A vertical take-off, if it becomes feasible, will influence location rather than design. Without the need for runways, the surrounding development can move in closer to you."

Ideally, he asserts, airports of the future should be located in the center of the city "where the people are."

Tampa International was actually the first facility to combine separate elements of unit terminals, verticalized groundside functions, and people movers when it opened in 1971. By incorporating roof and covered parking into the main terminal, planners were able to use the escalators and people movers to keep the average passenger walking distance to 700 feet, according to Paul MacAlester, a spokesman for the local airport authority that manages Tampa International.

Other terminals, such as Atlanta with its underground moving tram, and Dallas-Fort Worth with its moving sidewalks, have split land and air functions. But Orlando is the first since Tampa to use a centralized landside hub connecting outlying airside buildings with spokelike tracks.

It's no accident that Greiner of Tampa has been the consulting engineer for both airports.

The concept of locating the main ground-entry terminal in the center of a series of outlying air terminals allows the passenger to take the rapid-transit device directly to his air gate.

The people-moving vehicle is an electrically powered tram capable of carrying 100 passengers per car the distance of 2,000 feet between Orlando land and air terminals in 60 seconds. Eight trams will move constantly on two 15-foot-high concrete tracks between the ground terminal and two air terminals.

The mover, developed by Westinghouse and selected by the Tampa designers in its prototype stage a decade ago, runs on pneumatic rubber tires at speeds controlled by electronic sensors embedded in the track.

Nonflying visitors will be able to ride the people movers free as part of the effort to showcase the new airport design.

Capacity will be 12 million passengers a year, but as air travel increases, the addition of two more 24-gate airside terminals would increase that capacity to 96 gates and 24 million passengers.

Although that ultimate capacity seems incongruous compared with the current 6 million passengers a year, planners point out that the phenomenal growth which Orlando has experienced with the opening of nearby Walt Disney World a decade ago is expected to be duplicated again when the Disney EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) opens next October.

Currently, the majority of passengers using the facility are Disney-bound tourists.

To alleviate traffic congestion, a 20-acre rental-car facility near the edge of the property will be reached by an under-ground service tunnel. Elevated roadways will lead to various levels for picking up and dropping off passengers, and curbside gate ticketing and baggage check-in will be offered.

The only link missing from the Orlando project to make it a complete model of efficient transportation is a mass ground-transit system, according to Mr. Haury.

"You have to create modal points where we can combine airplanes and passengers and connect modal points with transportation systems," he says. "Our cities are going to have to move in that direction. We are designing airports as if they were cities -- which they are."

Under those conditions, he adds, "the individual people mover known as an automobile is just not going to be efficient."

But until the time when citywide mass-transit systems interface with the airport mode, airport planners will have to be content to build the most efficient terminals they can.

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