MIAMI — Fort Lauderdale Airport’s new, $826 million runway opened today with JetBlue’s Flight 1028 the first to touch down. The new runway 10R/28L sits on the south of the airport and runs parallel to Fort Lauderdale’s existing 9000 foot runway. The runway, part of a $2.3 billion capital improvement program at the airport, took three years and three months to complete, but was decades in the making. It is 8000 feet long and 150 feet wide, and will allow Fort Lauderdale to operate simultaneous landings and departures, expanding capacity at the airport to up to 425,000 flights annually, up from 260,000 at present. Until now, Fort Lauderdale had been limited to a single main air carrier runway, much like San Diego and London’s Gatwick Airport.
The new runway’s design is unusual, as the eastern end of the runway is elevated to allow traffic on highway US 1 and a freight railway line to pass underneath aircraft on take off. The eastern end of the runway was elevated by 52 feet using 11 million tons of dirt and has a slope of 1.3 degrees. 10R/28L is one of just three runways in the United States with a slope of 1.3 degrees or more. To facilitate traffic flow, the airport constructed six runway structures, each of which is 810 feet long and six taxiway structures that are 440 feet long. These structures are smaller-scale versions of the runway construction at Madeira Airport in Portugal, whose elevated runway opened in 2002.
The new runway is only part of a $2.3 billion capital improvement project. Broward County, operator of the airport, is also currently renovating three of its terminals and completely reconstructing Terminal 4. Construction in all of the terminals is slated to be completed by 2017. Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are getting a much needed $300 million facelift and Terminal 1, which houses Southwest Airlines is getting an additional $150 million for the construction of a five international gates in a new Concourse A. The main terminal complex dates to the 1980s and is certainly showing its age.
Southwest is expected to use Fort Lauderdale as a growing hub for its increased international operations when the new gates come online. Southwest is today the second largest airline at Fort Lauderdale by market share, and it is locked in a tight competition with JetBlue to grow market share in Fort Lauderdale and use it as a base to serve Latin American destinations. Although the county is paying for the construction via grants and passenger facility charges, Southwest is managing all construction in Terminal 1.
Terminal 4, FLL’s international terminal, is being completely rebuilt because of its position on the airfield. Terminal 4’s Concourse H is situated in an area needed for the south runway airfield improvements. The $450 million terminal’s reconstruction is being completed in two stages, with the West phase scheduled to open in 2015 and the East scheduled for completion in 2017. 14 additional gates are planned, for a total of 24 in the terminal.
Work in the terminals will also bring vast improvements to the airport passenger experience. A connector bridge is being built between Terminals 3 and 4 to allow for easier passenger connections between international and domestic flights. Arriving passengers will only need to clear security once. Passengers will also have a new corridor connecting the gates directly to the customs area, reducing passenger walk times after they deplane.
A common complaint about FLL is the lack of airside concessions, a problem being addressed in all terminals. Terminals 1, 2, and 3 will see reconfigured and new concessions as well as new retail space. Ticketing and security screening areas will also see a major overhaul, streamlining the process.
In-line baggage handling systems, which allow for explosives detection while the baggage is moving on the conveyor belt, are also being installed. In-line baggage systems have been installed in Terminals 1 and 2. Terminal 3 is slated to receive the upgrade baggage system by next year, while Terminal 4 will open with the system installed.
Fort Lauderdale, which handled a record 23.5 million passengers in 2013, is an increasing hotspot for competition between network carriers JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, ultra-low cost carriers (ULCC) Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, and regional carrier Silver Airways. JetBlue has served Fort Lauderdale continuously since it began operations in 2000, and is today the largest airline at Fort Lauderdale by market share, edging ahead of Southwest, but both carriers aim to nearly double their footprint at Fort Lauderdale with the new runway, and turn Fort Lauderdale into the second Latin American gateway in South Florida.
Accordingly, the first commercial flight to christen the new runway was JetBlue Flight 1028, a so-called “flight-to-nowhere” that took off from the north runway and landed on the new south runway. The flight number, 1028, was chosen in accordance with the compass heading of the new runway. Flight 1028 departed 10/28 north at 9:28 am. The Airbus A320 flew east and then west over Everglades climbing to 7,000 feet. Over the everglades, the seat belt sign was turned off for 5 minutes before turning back east and descending into Fort Lauderdale. No inflight snacks were offered, and the FlyFi was turned off, due to the maximum altitude of 7,000 feet. After 25 minutes in the air, JetBlue 1028 became the first flight to land at 9:53 am local time. The pilots made sure to land with extra force in order to christen the runway with its first skid marks. After Flight 1028, the runway will formally be opened for normal commercial flights Thursday afternoon. The first regularly scheduled flight to use the new runway was also a JetBlue flight. Flight 506 to Newark, New Jersey departed at 2:40pm local time. Check out our photos of JetBlue’s flight below.