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Intersection: How Florida's Busiest Airport Rode Out The Pandemic

Orlando International Airport. File photo: Isaac Babcock, WMFE
Orlando International Airport. File photo: Isaac Babcock, WMFE

Orlando International Airport’s passenger traffic is picking up again. The airport says its memorial day weekend traffic is expected to be not far off where it was in 2019. That’s a far cry from this time last year, when passenger traffic had virtually ground to a halt. 

Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, announced not long ago that he’s stepping down- although he’ll stay on until the board hires a new CEO. He also wants to see the South Terminal through to completion. 

Brown talked to Intersection host Matthew Peddie about the challenge of keeping Florida’s busiest airport running during a pandemic. He compared the recession and its impact on tourism and travel to the impact of 9-11. 

"This is similar but not the same to 9-11. This will change the way aviation industry operates, I think we'll be much more conscious about health issues and the volume of air in the aircraft, the cleanliness of facilities. I think for a period of time, you're still gonna be wearing masks, until there is, you know, generally most of the folks are vaccinated."

Brown says the downturn in passengers last year forced the airport to look for other revenue streams. Those include cargo, and potentially attracting other businesses to the airport property.

"We've got more land than any other airport in the state in terms of the ability to expand and put facilities on. So those are the things that that we're looking at going forward that we need to broaden our effort on, so that we can guard against another downturn, and whether it's a pandemic, or whether it's a recession, we know historically, those things come in cycles."

Still, Brown says, passengers remain the driving force of the airport.

"This is a people business, running an airport, if you're going to be successful, particularly in an environment where we're viewed as a community asset. But the reason that it's important for us is that Central Florida's economy is built on the concept of hospitality. And we have to be worth the first impression or the last impression. We all have to be focused on that."