Jason Garcia | Sentinel Staff Writer
March 19, 2009
Walt Disney World and Orlando International Airport completed a deal Wednesday to continue the resort's free passenger and luggage shuttle until at least the end of 2016.
Under the terms of the deal, the airport agreed not to raise the per-passenger fee of 75 cents it charges the resort for Disney's Magical Express. The previous contract would have allowed the airport to raise the fee to as much as $1.50 per passenger under certain circumstances.
Disney buses ferried slightly less than 2.2 million travelers from OIA to either its resort hotels or cruise ships in 2008. That works out to roughly $1.6 million a year in payments to the airport — compared with about $3.2 million had the passenger fee doubled.
The previous agreement had been set to expire at the end of 2011. The new pact also gives Disney the option to extend the agreement until 2021.
Airport leaders have been working to cut costs and raise money — including making plans to eliminate an undisclosed number of jobs — as passenger traffic and revenue tumble amid the global recession.
But Jeff Fuqua, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said the agency decided it was better served by not raising Disney's fee, in return for securing a longer commitment from the company to operate Magical Express.
Because Disney's Magical Express luggage is processed in a remote hangar at the airport, the service diverts thousands of bags every day away from OIA's main luggage-sorting systems and claim areas. That eases pressure on the airport to spend money expanding its baggage facilities, Fuqua said.
"What they were looking for was control on costs. What we were looking for was to relieve ourselves of capital costs — big costs," Fuqua said.
The airport also agreed to raise the threshold under which it could have forced Disney to open a second customer check-in location at the airport's main terminal.
Under the previous deal, OIA could have required Disney to rent more counter space once Magical Express reached 2.2 million arriving travelers in any 12-month period; now, it can do so only once the shuttle service reaches 2.5 million arriving passengers.
"We're pleased the contract extension will enable us to continue to operate Disney's Magical Express for many years to come," Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said.