Welcome to Check-in, the Vanderlande airports podcast, where we explore various topics from the world of aviation. In this episode, we head back to North America and bring you news of the latest developments at Orlando Airport in Florida.
There’s lots happening in this busy and expanding airport so we’re joined by Assistant Director of Airport Operations, Scott Goodwin, who brings us up to speed on dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, creating a pleasant passenger experience for returning tourists, the excitement for the new south terminal complex and the airport’s strategic ambitions for the future.
A – Hello there, this is Andy Lynch and I bid you another warm welcome to Check-in… the Vanderlande airports podcast.
I do hope you’re continuing to enjoy the episodes so far, as we carry on our journey through the world of aviation.
And indeed, we have taken quite a more global perspective on recent shows, making pit-stops in Canada, The Netherlands, Denmark and Iceland.
In today’s show, we’re heading back to North America – the USA to be precise – and touching down at Orlando Airport in Florida.
For many listeners, that will probably conjure up images of theme parks and family vacations, but there’s more to the airport than meets the eye.
To help guide us through the Orlando story, I’m delighted to be joined by Assistant Director of Airport Operations, Scott Goodwin.
So, let’s go ahead and collect Scott from our virtual departures lounge…
Welcome to Check-in, Scott, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you with us today.
S – Thank you for having me today.
A – And whereabouts are you joining us from today?
S – From Orlando, Florida, the United States. Orlando International Airport.
A – Ah, OK. And do you live close to the airport? Is it a big commute from your family home?
S – No, it’s not too bad. I live about 20 miles – 20 minutes away – and while there’s traffic like most cities, it’s not bad compared to some of the major cities and the traffic out there.
A – Excellent. So, I think a good place to start is maybe some more about yourself Scott. Could you maybe tell our listeners something about your role at Orlando Airport?
S – Sure. So, I’m the Assistant Director of Airport Operations at Orlando International Airport, and I work with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority – the authority that owns and operates the airport in Orlando. And in that role, I specifically look after an airport’s operations, baggage handling systems, and the ground support equipment. So, the ground support equipment as we define it is basically everything owned by the airport that touches the aircraft, that would be the passenger boarding bridges, the ground power, the air conditioning, water and so on. So, all of those systems along with our baggage conveyor systems – currently in our terminal, close to 12 miles of conveyor systems. So, a lot of conveyors in a compact building that’s almost quarter of a mile long.
A – Wow, so you must have quite a busy schedule day to day. And how long have you been at the airport Scott, if you don’t mind me asking?
S – I’ve been working here at the airport for the past 15 years, been in the industry longer, actually worked with some of the airlines in various roles in different airports around the country. Been in aviation about 25 years.
A – So, it’s maybe always been a way of life for you? I take it that that was maybe the first thing you did fresh out of college, was to get into aviation?
S – Yeah, I enjoy aviation. The airports, commercial, airlines, transport, everything associated with it.
A – It’s been a good career. I can see it in your face Scott that you really enjoy doing what you do. Let’s turn our attention to the airport then… tell us a little bit more about Orlando and it activities. I can imagine that you see quite a lot of tourists in that part of the world, perhaps?
S – Yeah, we do receive a lot of tourists. After all, Central Florida is the most visited destination in the United States prior to the pandemic with roughly 70 million visitors to the region. And our airport as you might imagine is the primary gateway for most of those visitors. And in 2019, we registered a record number of passengers, more than 50.6 (million) annual passengers, and we continue to be the busiest airport in Florida. Actually, since the pandemic we have constantly been ranked as a top five airport in the entire nation, and in the first couple of months of this year, we’re actually the busiest airport in the nation.
A – Oh, wow. So, if you don’t mind me asking again Scott, I know the last 12 months have been really difficult for so many airports, and it’s wonderful to hear that you’re having such a positive response. But overall, how have you been coping with COVID, the road to recovery, can you paint a little bit of a picture around that for us?
S – Sure. For the most part, we’ve been responding like most agencies and businesses during this challenging time. We’ve been following all of our CDC guidelines here in the United States and we invested over one million dollars in strict cleaning protocol for the airport. We’ve curtailed spending and helping concessionaires as much as possible along the way with rent relief, and helping receiving federal stimulus monies and so on. Along those lines, we’ve also seen the positive turnaround as mentioned earlier, as one of the busiest airports in the country. As you mentioned earlier, we’re primarily a leisure destination – we’re very strong with that and the current travel trends, it’s been a top destination in our country. And in addition, with some of the restrictions on a global basis, been seeing a lot of the folks that might have been travelling internationally within our domestic market actually coming here. I think we’ve been blessed with seeing a good response, travel is coming back, and coming back very quickly here.
A – Excellent. And how has it been working day to day in terms of coping with things like social distancing and all those technical things that airports have to take care of. How has that been working day to day for you to make sure that passengers can travel safely?
S – Day to day, things are changing so frequently and so quickly. So, we started here, in the United States, social distancing was at six feet, and that’s changed down to three feet, and now it’s been relaxed with the mask out there, although currently there’s still the federal mandate in our country with our airports, where we still have the mask requirements. So, one of the challenges has been the quick adapting to conditions, where airports might have certain conditions and other things in the community are different. The response to that has been good, people have been adapting to that and one of the benefits we have, for instance, we have a digital platform here… all of our digital counters have a digital back-bar. And we’re able to update those on a near real-time basis, with changing conditions versus putting out floor markers that say maybe six or three feet, and if it changes overnight, you need to change it to two feet, we actually have some of that ability with some of the technology we have in place to facilitate that, and that’s been pretty good… to our advantage.
A – Excellent. So, I don’t want to make a summary, or put words in your mouth Scott, but it sounds like it’s going well at Orlando. I think the signs are good, certainly for the rest of this year, and further ahead.
S – Yeah, very optimistic, actually when you walk our terminals today, you see the folks out there, and we are actually – domestically – at pre-COVID levels, and have exceeded that… and we’re increasing every week. So, other than you see some of the things, people wearing masks and so on, it’s pretty much looking like it’s back to normal. Now, because of some of the restrictions on a global basis, not all of our international carriers have returned yet, but we’ve actually seen some domestic carriers and some new carriers and new destinations that we didn’t even have pre-COVID. So, we’ve responded very well here in Orlando.
A – That’s excellent to hear, and things never stand still at Orlando Airport. I believe you’re soon to open a new south terminal complex. Can you tell us a little bit, what type of hardware and software solutions are you deploying on site for that terminal?
S – We’re very excited about the new, what we call the south terminal, for the public known as terminal C – because we have a terminal A and B right now, and then we’ll have terminal C. And it should open in about a year, probably the spring of 2022. But looking at the new technology, one of the things we’re most excited about is the new baggage handling system, which I oversee here in the north. And in the south, we are not going with a traditional conveyor system, we’re going with an ICS carrier tote system. That’s seen throughout Europe and other places, but not fully adapted in the United States, and we’ll have one of the largest complete systems when that’s rolled out next year. The technology, the efficiencies we’ve had, it allows us to manage our baggage flows and get more efficiencies and capacities, with the early bag storage system close to 2,000 bags. And that’s really going to be a benefit here in Orlando – I know other airports have that – but we have a unique demographic here… there are conventions, cruise ships, theme parks, where a lot of the folks get to the airport before their departure later in the evening. And they want to check-in, and where can I drop my bags off, or perhaps enjoy some of the facilities at the airport. And the early bag storage, rather than an airport that’s been very busy, and we tell people they need to come back in a few hours to drop their bags off, we’re going to have the capability to accept those bags and work with our guests as they depart at their leisure. Along with that, hopefully more efficiencies on the business side, different staffing models that go with the just-in-time delivery of the baggage through the ICS system, and more efficient. Other things, technologies… we’re going to have a virtual ramp controller that facilitates airport movements in a social environment versus building a control tower… it’s just for the immediate ramp area, we still have our control tower. And a more integrated model here in Orlando, for the most part, we have an origin and destination, but this new model we’ll have down there will allow more connections, so if somebody’s coming in and use it like a hub to get off one plane on to another, there’ll be better facilitation between that as they clear customs, and don’t have to change to another building via a different mode of transportation. So, more efficiency there and probably one of the biggest things that’s going to be very easy to expand, this is just the first phase, our north terminal that we’re operating out of now has 73 gates. And our long-term vision down there in the south is that we can go up to 120. This first version, it’s going to be a fraction of that, they are mixed-use gates, so it’s going to be in the neighbourhood of 20 gates, 22 boarding bridges, but that’s just the first phase and when we’ve got the landside infrastructure just keep adding on to the gates as demand comes along.
A – Excellent. And to go back to the baggage handling system, you said you had the ICS system with the early bag store, is that also going to be scalable? So, you’re looking to extend the terminal, or extend the infrastructure in the future, is that something you see the baggage handling system being able to keep up with, in terms of its own scalable? How do you see that?
S – Yes, definitely, Orlando’s one of the largest airports by landmass in the country, so we have a lot space, we’re not land-locked in the centre of a city. That being said, the early bag store is in a facility that we’ve carved out – while that area is full, we can actually just build next to it another parallel building, so we don’t have to connect directly to that scalability, we could put it somewhere else on the property and connect it with the ICS system. So, we’re looking at the 2,000 early bag storage which is going to fill the needs as we open the terminal, but like everything else, will grow… more ticket counters, more bag claims, more EBS as needed, based on demand and how we utilise it.
A – Yeah, so there’s a sort of an exciting future ahead for Orlando. And how does the new terminal, the south terminal, how does it fit with strategic ambitions for the future? Are you able to tell us a little bit about the… where you guys are heading over the next couple of decades, perhaps?
S – Sure, so the south terminal project has continued throughout the pandemic, uninterrupted… I want to go back in time. We broke ground on this prior to the pandemic and a lot of businesses have cut back, but we kept moving forward because we saw the demand which has really responded very quickly. So, moving forward and beyond that, well we… it’s key to growth in the future as the most visited destination in the country, once opened early next week, we’ll provide room for an additional 10m travellers in Orlando, and the region continues to grow, there’s a lot of expansion happening out here, outside of the airport so the need was there before the pandemic and we’ve responded very quickly and we’re still moving full-speed ahead as we look forward on that.
A – It’s incredible to hear, I think what has interested me is how much of a positive… I mean, we’ve heard – and I’m sure you’ll have heard the same stories – but it has been quite shocking in the industry, it’s been in headline news how it’s affected travel, the aviation industry… COVID, of course… but for you guys, I get the impression that it was a tiny drop in the ocean, a small blip and then you’re ready to rock and roll again with your expansion plans. It’s quite unusual, but at the same time, I’m quite impressed and excited by how you guys are motoring on with it really.
S – Yeah, we’re really excited to have been leading the country with domestic travel, here in the United States. And continuing with more carriers adding service, and the terminal filling up, we need that additional space and as I mentioned earlier it’s expandable. So, as we hit more thresholds, the way the building is designed we can just start adding on more gates, as the infrastructure’s there, the property’s already secured, the plans are there. It could pick up pretty quickly and am looking forward to opening it next year and keep going from there.
A – Excellent news, and obviously no airport is complete without the ‘brains’, which is obviously the IT system. What’s your view on the value of information technology at Orlando Airport?
S – Very important as we become more of a digital environment. Almost all of our operating systems at the airport communicate digitally in some form or fashion to the airport’s central network. IT plays a major role in enabling these systems to transmit and share data, the evolution and advancement of many technologies, for instance, including but not limited to wireless networking, bedded sensors, control systems, automation, data analytics, has enabled the airport to gain efficiencies. Operational data is the big bonus here, being able to capture and distil multiple operating systems sources both historically and on a real-time basis gives us the ability to be proactive rather than reactive in many cases.
A – Yeah, for sure, I think there’s been a brilliant trend in the industry, certainly over the last 10 years with the emergence of the internet of things, big data and end-to-end thinking, I think a lot of airports have really begun to see the true power of data rather than seeing reports and thinking ‘oh that’s great, we had so many passengers today’, they’re starting to look at it and say ‘ah well, actually we can use this information to make our lives, passenger lives, even better than ever’. So, are you using data to improve your operations and create a more pleasant passenger experience?
S – Oh, absolutely. And I actually have a couple of neat examples I can talk to you on this… the first one that stands out is actually visible to our passengers as they travel. So, we have at our checkpoints, checkpoint wait times… to manage expectations on how long it may take to get through the security checkpoint, based on current demands, the checkpoints are calculated independently – and I say that because we have two checkpoints, one on each side of the airport handling different airlines – so, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all, and we look at it, for the most part, almost like two airports. And we do that with cameras and Bluetooth sensors, and embedded algorithms, that calculate the average wait time from the beginning to end. The calculated information is shared above the checkpoints on digital screens and we go beyond that and feed it through a web server through a mobile app and on to our website. And that gives the customers the right expectations on how busy it is even before I get to the airport, what’s neat around that too… we’re actually using that information to adapt to how we manage our guests at that point. So, when we hit a certain threshold above our checkpoints the display will say something along the lines of accepting passengers leaving within the next two hours. When we have shorter wait times, we welcome everybody because there’s a limited throughput there, but now with this real-time data, we could actually change customer behaviour where it benefits the airport, so we basically get rid of the peaks, shave that off and become a more efficient operation, and give a better experience for everybody. So, if we could tell you in a few minutes your wait’s not going to be as long because you might see a line, that’s valuable too and that’s what we’re looking at.
A – Yeah, I mean it all links back to that passenger experience, and great to hear that you’re discovering or exploring those opportunities to give people a really good experience, because you have such a specific demographic at Orlando… as soon as you were describing the information you just gave, I was thinking of family groups, large families, so was that also in your thinking? To improve the passenger experience… those massive family groups? We all know what it’s like on a family vacation, and maybe that was at the forefront of your mind when talking about IT developments, perhaps?
S – Definitely. The family is a top demographic here, and I mentioned earlier, when they’re departing, they have to get out of the hotel by a certain time and you’re bringing all your bags and your family… where can you leave it, how can you still have a great experience here in Orlando and that’s a key part of it. Along those lines, we have – back to baggage – a unique operation here called the remote screening facility, with our theme parks, cruise ship operations, we were talking up to 10% of traffic off-site, where they can check their bags at theme parks, cruise ships and convention centres. And that was a big help to the airport, because now we can keep those people doing what they want to do, keep those bags remotely processed, and the efficiencies are there with our screening and transport. So, you hit it on the head! The type of traveller here, we have a unique opportunity to really work with our infrastructure and understanding our customers to improve that.
A – Excellent. And we all know that Orlando is quite a progressive airport when it comes to IT… do you have a particular vision on this for the coming years? I mean maybe another question is if there was no limit on time, money, resources… what would be an ideal world for you when it comes to IT? And how close is that to what you think you might achieve over the coming years?
S – Over the coming years, IT’s very important, and looking at how we can basically get to an environment where we are more seamless and touchless, especially what the pandemic brought out, our customers basically want to get from the curb to the gate with minimal delay and interaction. One of the challenges we have there is the industry standards – if we can say they’re still evolving – but there’s so many different agencies, different approaches to things. Orlando, for instance, we’ve been working on a biometric exit, where we’re working with our customers and border protection. But they can get information from the passport and your picture, and how domestically can we do that when it’s really not a domestic passport. So, we’re optimistic that things are being looked at, for instance a United States driving licence, how can we get all the agencies, country vendors on the same page, when so many different agencies might be going down their own path. It could even be a global thing, obviously, as you call it… or here in the industry, the health passports that may come around and so on. IT’s key, but getting all the systems and agencies to talk together, I think will be the big piece to utilise and leverage that platform.
A – Absolutely, and it’s a topic that’s come up a few times on Check-in, as our listeners will be familiar with, stakeholder management as we’ve said before, airports are just… how many stakeholders work at an airport? You know, the list is as long as your arm. One of the challenges is how you unify those different stakeholders to create a unified approach. But you’ve described that problem, but on another level! You’re talking about the health passport, and other information from other agencies. I mean, that’s not easy Scott! Hats off to you, you’re going to be quite a busy guy, not only unifying stakeholders at the airport, but also agencies outside that, all to make this seamless operation. Hats off to you, or good luck I should say.
S – Thank you! And really looking forward to it… the challenge, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Seeing where we’ve been and where we’re going. Very promising ahead of us, very optimistic.
A – Good, it sounds like it’ll be in a safe pair of hands, Scott, for sure. And just one final question from us here, Scott… have you any thoughts about industry partners. I mean, I guess we touched on a few things there, different stakeholders, but how can industry partners support your airport in reaching your particular vision, your particular objectives?
S – Well, looking at the next evolution, I’ll say… I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but the next level of collaboration needs to occur, probably with the federal agencies and industry vendors, airports and airlines, to help clearly identify and standardise things like biometric solutions, technical requirements where possible. So, all of these great ideas can gel together and create a common solution that’s deployed in a common use environment too. I think what’s most important is a consensus from an information security aspect of biometric data and how it’s handled, where it’s stored, how long, how is it purged after it’s used for its intended purpose. So, truly going touchless and sharing of that data I think is the next evolution, looking at things like bag drops and so on, which are out there in the industry. How can we get something common there, where everybody gets together and speaks the same language to get the true benefits of that.
A – Well, thank you Scott, for your time already. And if we can finish on a positive note, do you look forward with a sense of optimism about the aviation industry, and of course your own particular airport?
S – Absolutely. Within the nation, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Here in Orlando, the way we’ve responded, very optimistic. Looking at our history, we’re in a building that was originally built for 24m annual passengers, and we exceeded 50, so we’ve more than doubled that. We’re breaking ground for our new terminal as mentioned, which is going to open within a year. Very optimistic, because we cater to anywhere from the youngest travellers that are arriving in strollers, to folks on the elderly or senior side, and we are one of the largest markets for wheelchairs, the largest market for rental cars, so very diverse on the leisure side. Locally, our theme parks are expanding, the cruise industry, the cruise ports are expanding, our terminal’s expanding. One of the things I really didn’t elaborate on earlier was to do with our terminal C, is that we have our inter-modal facility there, and we’re going to have a train-rail system which goes to south Florida… Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, opening a year after out terminal, which is – sometimes you see this in Europe, where the train comes right to the airport. And future plans, that would expand down to the theme parks, looking at Tampa, perhaps even going up north to Jacksonville on the road. But to make Orlando a true destination for transportation, where we’re at the heart of Florida, right in the centre. A lot of our foreigners come into Florida and go to various destinations over the course of a few weeks, and we can become that gateway as the only airport with that infrastructure where the train meets the plane, and how do we connect our passengers to that, and the baggage systems and the flows and so on. So, very optimistic, a lot’s happening here, we’ve got a lot of space, the passengers are here, the demand is here and looking forward to that bright future.
A – Well, Scott, I’m afraid that’s all we have time for on Check-in today, so I have to say, Scott Goodwin, from Orlando Airport, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you today.
S – Yeah, thank you very much, glad to participate… a lot of great information and things happening here. Again, looking forward to the future.
A – Well, thanks for listening, and thanks once again to today’s guest… Scott Goodwin, from Orlando Airport. I do hope you’ll check-in with us once again, when we’ll be joined by another expert from the aviation industry. Until next time, stay safe and goodbye for now.