Orlando Sanford International Airport has a new chief executive and plans to begin leasing land for development, as well as expanding internal operations.
Diane Crews, who became CEO last month, said there are about seven tracts of land on the airport's south and east sides, roughly 10 to 15 acres each, that the airport would like to lease for commercial use. Crews envisions hotels, restaurants and other ancillary uses to complement the $27 million, 15-field tournament sports complex that is being built just east of the airport on East Lake Mary Boulevard.
The airport is also looking into leasing land it owns on nearby SR 46, whose four-laning should make the property even more attractive for development.
For all endeavors, "We want to guide the development," Crews said.
Crews became chief executive when Larry Dale stepped down after 14 years. She had been the airport's vice president of finance and administration.
Crews said her goals are growth for Orlando Sanford International Airport, which has about $90 million of projects underway or in the works. She indicated the airport is laying the groundwork to double its passenger load to 5 million a year from its current two-and-a-half million, an endeavor she estimates would take five to seven years.
"We're reaching a point in our capacity where we should start planning for our future," Crews said.
Already, Orlando Sanford International Airport is ranked as the 85th busiest airport in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration, with more than 2.184 million passengers in 2014. Roughly 2.5 million passengers are expected to be tallied in 2015.
The airport is currently ranked third in the state of Florida for number of operations, or take offs and landings, after Miami and Orlando. The number is aided by the many flights from training schools that use the airport.
To assist in building business, the airport is spending $30 million to add four gates to the 12 it already has. Another $30 million is going toward laying new tarmac.
And $12 million is being allocated to replace the internal walkways that passengers use to get to planes, while a similar amount is being used to build a 600-space parking lot.
The projects are largely financed by federal grants made up of user fees that passengers pay whenever they fly.
The airport is also in the midst of negotiating with new carriers, to go with the six it already has, said Crews, who declined to discuss who the airport is speaking with.
As for its larger neighbor to the south, Orlando International Airport, Crews says there is definitely room for both.
"We are a different kind of airport," said Crews. "We don't see many business travelers. A lot of people come in from small markets and are more comfortable coming into a smaller airport."
There is "room for both of us," Crews said.
Nonetheless, last year Thomas Cook Airlines moved back to Orlando International Airport after almost a decade at Orlando Sanford. Icelandair followed with its own move earlier this year.
Allegiant Air is by far Orlando Sanford's biggest carrier, a low cost, regional airline with a focus on bringing people from the north to warmer climes. Allegiant flies out of airports in locations like Peoria, IL, Sioux Falls, SD, Youngstown, OH, and Grand Rapids, MI.
Roughly 70 percent of Orlando Sanford's business is domestic, largely because of Allegiant. That is a big swing from the early 2000s, when 70 percent was international, mostly from charter flights.