Making Sanford Fly
Public-private partnership is better equipped for air service development
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
SANFORD, FL — Converting a military base to compete with a major airport like Orlando International is not easy business. In the case of Orlando Sanford International Airport, initial success brought new challenges — facilities that could not handle the growth, and a competitor that did not take losing business quietly. Today, officials say, Sanford is better prepared and better equipped to compete, and the dynamics of the region signal opportunity for both Orlando air carrier airports.
In 1995, Sanford moved some 48,000 passengers through its new terminal building. In 1999, the volume was 1.2 million, and movements are up 25 percent for the first quarter of this year. Growth, however, had been slowed after an initial burst of traffic generated by international charter carriers, mostly from the United Kingdom. In fact, the numbers decreased some 25 percent to bring passenger movements below one million. Two primary reasons: Orlando International was able to lure back Britannia and Caledonian airlines, and the Sanford terminal — built to accommodate 500,000 passengers annually — was quickly taxed beyond capacity.
Explains Larry Gouldthorpe, A.A.E., managing director of Orlando Sanford International, Inc. (OSI), the private company charged with air service development, "In some ways, we were victims of our own success. The facilities were strained when handling that level of traffic. So, we've added ticket counters; put in more seating upstairs. Facility changes needed to be made and I don't think the carriers that left felt that they could wait for the improvements."
Officials here are optimistic that expansion and upgraded facilities will create an airport capable of handling 3 million passengers a year. And, the airport today has more solid economic footing, having penned 7-year agreements with Airtours Interna-tional, First Choice Holidays, and Unijet Travel/Air 2000.
In April, OSI signed on Aeromexico charters for a three-month trial run, according to Gouldthorpe, marking the airport's entry into the Latin and South American markets.
And, in what has brought about a major redirection for the airport, Pan American Airways began offering in late 1999 domestic scheduled service. Success with Pan Am and renewed interest from other low-cost carriers has led to a $25 million, 7-gate domestic gate expansion that broke ground in January and is expected to be occupied later this year.
"Our belief is that there's a lot of growth ahead of us still," says Gould-thorpe. "The biggest change is that there is now this emerging domestic market that is developing.
"It's not just the tourism market; there's sort of a shifting dynamic that's occurring in Central Florida. Seminole County north of Orlando is just booming, and there's a huge economic development effort that's going on within seven miles of this airport — corporate relocations, e-businesses, technology companies. It looks to me like there's going to be a terrific demand for business travel in this market."
SHARING THE RISK FOR GROWTH
The initiative at Sanford Interna-tional is a joint venture between the public Sanford Airport Authority and TBI, the parent company of OSI. The authority operates the airport with Victor White, A.A.E., as executive director, and OSI is charged with developing and servicing air carrier business.
Explains White, "When the city decided they wanted to get into the airline business, we couldn't very easily raise the capital necessary to fund the tremendous physical plant improvements. So we searched for a business partner, which we found in TBI. That allowed us to put together a financing package for a $50 million passenger terminal and now a $30 million domestic facility expansion.
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