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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Epcot Airport



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE EPCOT AIRPORT

By Jim Korkis
In 1970, only nineteen percent of visitors came to Central Florida by airplane. The majority of people journeyed there by car, usually on their way to Miami.

It was obvious that with the opening of Walt Disney World, more tourists would be coming by plane.

By 1995, more than fifty percent of WDW guests, especially international ones, came by plane rather than car. That year counted for over twenty-two million visitors taking flights to Central Florida.

Eastern Airlines, the official airline of Walt Disney World from 1970-1987, doubled its flights to Orlando from 40 to 80 at the beginning of 1972. Eastern offered service to Orlando from sixty different cities across the United States

Walt Disney’s original plan for the Florida property was to have an operating airport with three to four parallel runways on the land that is now occupied by the city of Celebration. The entitlements in the Reedy Creek Improvement District legislation allowed for Disney to build such an airport.

An Entrance Complex and Registration Center staffed by cast members who spoke various languages would be there to assist foreign visitors.

That primary entrance to the Epcot location (the Main Gate) would be roughly across the street from Walt’s airport. The nondescript building that houses Entertainment, Merchandising and Disney Design Group on Sherberth Road is known as “Main Gate”, since that is where the planned entrance to the property was to be located.

In 1971, there was no Orlando International Airport — that didn’t come until 1976. There was just Orlando McCoy Jetport, which had limited capacity. (Orlando International’s “MCO” airport designation actually originates from the McCoy Air Force Base formerly on the same site.)

Expectations were that more than 400 people would be working at the Epcot airport by the time Phase Two of the Florida property was completed in 1976. By then, there were to have been three new resorts near the Magic Kingdom and new attractions.

Disney projected that by 1991 the airport would employ more than 2,000 full-time workers and would be surrounded by hundreds of motels accommodating the many travelers coming to visit the Epcot area.

According to Marvin Davis, who created the initial layout for Walt Disney World, “This airport was planned after one in Cincinnati. We made a special trip to New York and met with the guy in charge of that airport who said it worked like a charm.

“The circular plan cuts down the area that you need by half, instead of those long runways that were standard. They had a circular runaway plan and it worked on a banked curve for the takeoff. Of course, we would have had to get all kinds of approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.”

As the plans evolved, this international airport would have been located in the southwest portion of the land and in the north east would be a second, smaller facility to handle general aviation.

Walt’s intention was that the architecture would mirror the distinctive Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport built in 1961 by architects that Walt liked including William Pereira, Charles Luckman and Welton Becket.

Disney could never get a major air carrier to partner with them in the costs for the airport, especially with the oil crisis in 1973, although Delta Airlines came close at one point to signing on.

The continuing expansion of Orlando International Airport, as well as drastic changes to the original plans for Epcot, resulted in the airport project quietly disappearing as an unnecessary expense. Basically, when Disney abandoned the plans to build the Epcot city that Walt Disney had envisioned, the airport was abandoned as well.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

 

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