The centerpiece of the $953 million renovation at Tampa International Airport will be a series of sleek, silver trains that will run from the airport's entrance to the main terminal, each adorned with a famous Florida bird.
Airport officials on Thursday unveiled the most detailed look to date at the automated people mover that will connect the revamped main terminal to a new rental car center and the economy parking garage.
The airport is writing checks of $115 million to Mitsubishi for the cars and electronics and about $300 million to Austin Commercial for the guideway, which the trains will run on. The trains are being made in Japan and likely will be delivered to Tampa through the Panama Canal next spring.
The people mover is expected to be completed and running by late next year.
Departing every two minutes, the trains will run on an elevated track and take about four minutes from the rental car center to the main terminal, and three minutes from economy parking.
The dozen or so trains will feature large pictures of Florida birds on their sides: bald eagles, great egrets, roseate spoonbills, white ibises and white pelicans.
Airport CEO Joe Lopano said that the design was an effort to highlight the natural beauty of the region. The airport worked with the Tampa Audubon Society to select the birds. The interior of the cars, which initially will transport as many as 2,700 people per hour, will have educational facts about each species.
A spokesman from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America said it is the most unique design for an airport people mover that the company has seen.
"We often see designs that feature lines and abstract shapes, but we have never featured graphic images incorporating the surrounding natural environment in this way," said Darin Friedmann, vice president and general manager of Mitsubishi's Transportation Systems Division.
The car rental center, currently well into construction, is going to be a major change for the airport, with enough space and resources to double the number of car rental companies.
"It's going to allow us to bring in more rental car companies and more brands, which will hopefully provide more choice to the passengers," spokesman Danny Valentine said.
Currently, eight car rental companies operate out of the bottom floor of the long-term parking garage. Once they are relocated to the new facility, the airport will increase parking spaces in the main lot by 35 percent.
The airport also estimates that 2.7 million vehicles will be diverted to the new rental car center near the entrance of the airport, providing traffic relief around the terminals. The center has been designed to handle as many as 1,541 rentals per hour.
Airport officials seem to grasp that the name "automated people mover" is about as appealing as a cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus.
So it needs a name. And the airport is inviting the public to help them choose it by voting online.
The candidates you can vote for are: the Florida Flyer, Gulf Glider, SkyConnect and Jetstream. The airport is accepting votes for the train names at TampaAirport.com.
Alli Knothe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @KnotheA