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Company Reports - Orlando Sanford Airport Authority/TBI Airport Management, Inc.  

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Orlando Sanford Airport Authority/TBI Airport Management, Inc.

High Flyers

Written by A.F. Hutchinson & Produced by Michael Magno

High Flyers

Imagine catching your next flight in Central Florida: your terminal is only steps away from the parking area; the airport’s interior is modern and sleek; your gate is a quick walk from the ticket counter. There’s plenty of opportunity to shop or grab a bite, and what’s more, it’s easy and pleasant – the way travel used to be.

At Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) that dream scenario is played out every day. Just 18 miles northeast of Orlando, SFB is a convenient and comfortable alternative to larger airports, but boasts the airline and passenger capacity of bigger, more crowded airports. Last year, nearly 2 million passengers chose SFB, and that number is expected to climb steadily in the coming years. 

In addition to occupying a prime Seminole County location, SFB benefits from a forward-thinking management structure that blends governmental oversight with private funding. 

At the helm of the Sanford Airport Authority is Larry Dale, who has led the authority since 2001. “We are an economic engine and economic driver in Sanford, Seminole County, and all of Central Florida -- as most international, regionally significant and state significant airports are -- because we have our own synergy,” he says.  

“We have four active runways, three precision approaches with ILS and we have GPS, so we have all weather approaches here.  We have a main runway big enough and structured enough that it can handle the largest passenger and cargo aircraft flying in the world.  With our infrastructure we have the capacity to handle larger craft, and lots of passengers.” According to an economic impact study recently released by the Florida DOT, SFB contributes $2.53 billion annually to the Central Florida economy.

 

VIEW FROM ABOVE
At the height of the seemingly endless Orlando/Central Florida tourism boom of the mid-1990s, a group of private investors approached the Sanford Airport Authority with plans to build a private charter airline terminal to attract tourists from the United Kingdom. That plan launched SFB’s commercial service. In the years since, SFB has evolved into a typical commercial terminal serving domestic flights, scheduled international flights, and international charter flights. 

“Our company became involved in the business in 1997, where we acquired the business from the original group of investors who had a great idea,” says Larry Gouldthorpe, president of TBI Airport Management, Inc. Gouldthorpe describes the investors as “being a little undercapitalized at the time and really couldn’t see through the future expansion plans at the airport.  TBI came in, acquired the business, and immediately started investing and expanding the terminal.  To date, we have about $70 million invested in the facility here, which includes two terminals; the original international terminal and domestic terminal, parking garage, surface parking, fuel farms and everything that supports the commercial aviation segment here.”

A subsidiary of global airport management group Abertis, TBI manages a selection of diverse airports around the world, including Raleigh-Durham and Atlanta Hartsfield. In 2008, Sanford Airport Authority awarded TBI a 30-year lease and agreement to continue managing the airport’s international and domestic terminals, ground handling and cargo services.  

The agreement with TBI, says Dale, “brings us expertise in dealing with airlines and managing terminals because they have 38 of them across the world.”

 

OPERATION RESCUE
In January, 2010, SFB made history in being the transfer point for thousands of individuals affected by the Haiti earthquake. In the days following the disaster, SFB was the point of convergence for approximately 10,000 people seeking shelter in the aftermath. 

With an infrastructure designed to handle some of aviation’s largest craft, SFB was the ideal choice for the Department of Defense to stage its air rescue operations. When word of the quake reached Dale, he mobilized the airport and its mutual aid partners. “I got a call at two o’clock in the morning on the 16th of January and we were fully mobilized and ready to go at 0:700.”

Dale and his crew marshaled 126 military and commercial flights, and liaised with a bevy of county, state, federal and private aid organizations. Staffers from the Transportation Security Administration, US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement were among those at work to make the process work. “They actually went out to greet the planes with Larry and the rest of us,” reports Diane Crews, Sanford Airport Authority’s chief information officer. “The TSA agents and customs agents lined up and held babies and pushed wheelchairs and assisted every way they could.”

Amid the thousands were 316 children rescued from Haitian orphanages. “We had to turn the customs hall into a nursery,” Crews explains. “These were children who were already in orphanages when the earthquake struck. Incredibly, the emergency actually sped up the adoption process for those children.”

According to Dale, the mission quickly revealed itself to be more than a rescue. “I thought it was just going to be a customs and immigration operation and law enforcement with some medical aid,” he says. “These were US citizens of Haitian descent caught up in that earthquake and the main mission working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Children and Families was to repatriate them.” In addition, the Airport’s multi-jurisdictional response effort organized transportation and funding access. 

“We had volunteers and an outpouring of support, but we still had to be a secure operation.  And we still had to carry on our normal operations,” Dale points out.  And they did, seamlessly. “Nobody said it wasn’t their job.  We all did shift work.  Our staff is trained well enough and is professional enough that we could trade off on incident command -- we didn’t get much sleep that first weekend,” he chuckles.

 

COMMERCE
In addition to the airport, the Authority manages a 395-acre industrial park on airport property that covers over half of SFB’s operating costs.  “Our occupancy rate is about 90% and that’s low for us,” Crews admits. “For most of the time I’ve been here it’s been around 98 percent.”

Dale and Crews met with one prospective customer over a weekend, and that dedication, along with the airport’s location and infrastructure, impressed Avocet Capital LLC enough to relocate their business to Sanford.  The Airport Authority is currently building a $5million terminal for the new tenant, who plans to bring an additional 100 jobs to the area. 

“This is our first large commercial hangar capable of a Boeing 767,” Dale adds. “They could have gone anywhere in the country.  They really love the fact that we took the time with them and spent all the time on a weekend, and that’s another reason we’re so successful – if you call us, we will come.”

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