These days, cranes and construction equipment seem as ubiquitous to Orlando International Airport as passengers bearing souvenirs of Central Florida’s sun-splashed attractions. And indeed, there are a lot of both.
Already the nation’s 10th-largest airport, Orlando surpassed the milestone of 50 million passengers for the 12 months ending in October. That upward trend is among the key drivers in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s eight-year, $4.2-billion capital expansion program—its largest construction and renovation project ever. The majority of that work is planned or underway, including the initial phases of the 2.7-million-sq-ft South Terminal Complex, which are being built concurrently under separate construction management at-risk (CMAR) contracts by Hensel Phelps and a joint venture of Turner Construction and Kiewit.
In addition to providing capacity for smoother operations and continued growth, the program aims to sustain Orlando’s standing as the top aviation-based revenue generator in Florida, with more than $41 billion in direct and indirect economic activity annually, according to a recent Florida Dept. of Transportation analysis.
The sheer volume of current and planned activity would seem sufficient to qualify GOAA for ENR Southeast’s Owner of the Year honors. But the agency’s coordinated approach in planning and carrying out the program merits recognition as well. Even with all the construction activity and its associated, often unavoidable, inconveniences—not to mention operating out of terminals originally designed for half of the current passenger loads—Orlando International Airport was ranked by J.D. Power for Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Mega Airports in 2017 and 2018, and was named 2018 Large Airport of the Year by the Centre for Aviation (CAPA).
More recently, readers of USA Today picked Orlando as the nation’s Best Large Airport.
With apologies to Orlando’s professional basketball team, there’s no magic involved with the airport’s ability to balance operations and new construction. Instead, “It’s a matter of teamwork, communication and collaboration, just like everything else in life,” says Davin Ruohomaki, GOAA’s senior director of planning, engineering and construction. “It really does take a village to run jobs like this one.”
Turner Construction executive Jeff Justen notes that despite having to balance the interests of numerous stakeholders—airlines, concessions, regulatory agencies and the community—as well as the work of multiple design and construction teams, “GOAA does a good job keeping everyone pointed in the same direction.”
In conjunction with charting a strategy to build new facilities, GOAA has had to make the most of its existing asset to keep pace not only with growing passenger numbers, but also changes in everything from consumer tastes to security measures.
Built in 1981, the airport’s original complex of a main landside terminal and four airside terminals has undergone a phased series of smaller scale projects such as baggage-handling upgrades, gate improvements and building systems. The improvements sought to gradually bring capacity up to 42 million annual passengers with the least amount of disruption, according to Mark Birkebak, GOAA’s director of engineering.
Given the projects’ potential effects on the airport’s operations and security functions, Birkebak adds, “It was essential that we have a good ‘war plan’ to handle the complex phasing and logistics issues.”
Among the recent projects leading up to the capital improvement program was a $93.5-million, 450,000-sq-ft renovation of Airside Terminal 4, constructed by Hensel Phelps. Designed to accommodate growing international traffic, the project expanded the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s passenger processing area by 10,000 sq ft, improved building systems and adapted four gates to handle both domestic and overseas service.
With the original terminal and concourses adapted and expanded to their practical limits, GOAA embarked on major elements of the South Terminal Complex, which had been formulated in concert with SchenkelShultz Architects to not only meet current and projected operational needs, but also help the agency meet its sustainability goals with the world’s first LEED v4 airport campus.
The program began with a $262-million complex to anchor a 7,500-ft-long extension of the airport’s upgraded automated people mover system, integrated with a 1-million-sq-ft, 2,400-space parking garage. Built by Hensel Phelps, the project marked GOAA’s first use of the construction management at-risk approach, and had to be carefully coordinated with an adjacent Intermodal Center project that was being built simultaneously by Turner-Kiewit that includes platforms to accommodate up to four commuter, intercity and light rail systems.
The lessons in execution and coordination would provide GOAA valuable experience as the focus shifted to the new 816,000-sq-ft South Terminal building.
“Over the years, we had used standard design-bid-build and design-build,” explains Birkebak. “For something of this size and complexity, we felt CMAR gave us the most flexible approach. As we looked at potential bidders, we took a cue from the intermodal project and split the work between two firms.”
Turner-Kiewit is constructing the landside terminal as well as a six-level garage expansion and infrastructure systems, while Hensel Phelps is building the airside concourses and associated roadways, aprons, taxiways and security. GOAA took a different tact with the facility’s new baggage handling systems, hiring Vanderlande Industries under a design-build-operate-maintain contract.
Justen, with Turner, says the collaboration-driven dual-CMAR delivery approach is well suited to the terminal’s complexities. Along with the ability to implement specific guaranteed maximum price contracts while design work is still in progress, the value engineering discussions have been particularly inclusive and beneficial.
“Everyone gets a chance to participate and offer ideas,” he says. “Hensel Phelps can bring things that we, in turn, incorporate into our work. It’s a significant undertaking to phase in money and still meet expectations of delivering a world-class airport, but we’re seeing real results.”
Features of the three-level terminal complex include a state-of-the-art baggage-handling system with RFID and robotic technology to provide faster processing and 100% tracking. A building-long corridor, known as the Boulevard, will connect major passenger areas of the facility, the ticket hall and the concessions hub. Interactive video displays across the terminal will provide passengers with a rich multimedia experience to complement and reinforce Orlando’s self-identifying elements of water, gardens and light.
With so much construction underway and planned for the coming years, GOAA has stayed on top of potential construction market volatility, using spreadsheets to track economic trends, market prices for costs and other trends, including tariff-related issues and hurricane-forced delays.
“We factor in contingencies in order to get a GMP from subcontractors,” Ruohomaki says. “Any savings go back to contingency in anticipation of other potential issues.”
William Brooks, senior program director for HNTB, which collaborated with Fentress Architects on Terminal C’s design, says the ability to rise to a project’s complexities is part of GOAA’s culture.
“They’ve always been a lean and efficient organization, with the ability to staff up and down as needed,” Brooks says. “The fact that we’re all centrally located in an on-site logistics compound also helps foster good communication.”
Birkebak says those qualities start at the top with GOAA’s leadership group, including CEO Phil Brown, who was named FDOT’s 2019 Aviation Professional of the Year for championing Orlando International Airport’s role in Central Florida’s economy. High-level support from federal regulatory agencies has helped as well.
Countdown to Takeoff
With construction of the terminal now at the halfway mark, GOAA is managing a host of activities with airlines, technology providers, concession tenants and others to achieve the same step-by-step task completions in order to have the building operational by the end of 2021.
In addition to the terminal work, Virgin Trains has begun laying track at the Intermodal Terminal as part of a $4-billion extension of its passenger rail service from West Palm Beach. According to GOAA, the scheduled 2022 start-up of operations will make Orlando the nation’s first airport to have a full train station inside its terminal facility offering a high-speed rail connection.
GOAA’s master plan extends to 2031, with growth triggers for follow-up projects that could add another 40 gates to the South Terminal Complex. Although aviation construction programs are subject to ongoing challenges linked to labor availability and sudden shifts related to new security issues, Ruohomaki is confident that the agency’s current approach “will keep us ahead of the growth curve rather than catching up as we have been.”