9 Investigates: Behind the scenes at Orlando International Airport's control tower

By: Christopher Heath

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - At three hundred forty-five feet in the air, the Orlando International Airport’s air traffic control tower rises out of the flat sprawling concrete.  On an average day, the tower and its staff will handle 800 flights and 50,000 passengers, and if everything goes as planned everything will be on time.

 “Airlines schedule when people want to fly,” says Mark DePlasco of the FAA.  “The same flights come in every day, but it’s a different scenario even though the same flights are coming in.”

It is the eyes and ears of one of the busiest airports in the country servicing more than 800 flights a day. 9 Investigates was given unprecedented access to the control tower at Orlando International Airport.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.

The tower is the most visible part of airport, but not the only part of managing this complex operation.

 
360 Video: Watch the 360 video we shot inside the control tower
 

Across the airfield, is a dark room lit with blue lights and the green glow of radar screens; this is the TRACON.  The TRACON’s job is take flights after takeoff and get them on their way to their destination and to take flights as they approach the airport and get them oriented for their landing. 

 

Slideshow: Go inside the control tower

 

“In Orlando, you are either departing to the north, or you are departing to the south and that’s all based on the wind,” said Randy Merrihew at the TRACON.  “Pilots want to land into the wind, and depart into the wind.”

It is the eyes and ears of one of the busiest airports in the country servicing more than 800 flights a day. 9 Investigates was given unprecedented access to the control tower at Orlando International Airport.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.

 The TRACON doesn’t just handle flights in and out of the airport, but also keeps an eye on flights within the airport’s jurisdiction. 

 

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“The airspace is broken up into smaller chunks if you will,” says Debbie Kies of the FAA.  “That final controller will work them all the way down to the airport and hand them off to the tower.”

 

 

360 Video: Watch the 360 video we shot inside the control tower

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