MELBOURNE, Fla. – Lumbering toward Melbourne from the west, the TUI Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner slowly descended as a pack of photographers aimed their lenses along Runway 9R-27L.
Then the blue-and-white jumbo jet touched down at 4:43 p.m. Tuesday — making history as Melbourne Orlando International Airport’s first-ever transatlantic flight — according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
The inaugural plane brought TUI’s first batch of European holiday passengers from Manchester, England, to the Space Coast. Long anticipated by Brevard County officials, the vacation-package company is projected to fly in 135,000 tourists this year from seven cities in the U.K.
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“By coming into this location, all of the attractions over in Orlando are going to be a big part of what they’re here for. But we also know that beach time — and starting next year, cruise opportunities with the same company — are going to really add value to flying into this airport,” said Greg Donovan, airport executive director.
Each TUI flight will carry 300 to 345 passengers from the U.K. to Melbourne. Airport officials expect 11 flights per week through May 1, when flights will increase to 16 per week.
TUI’s other participating markets are London Gatwick, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Doncaster and Newcastle.
Tuesday’s flight represented TUI’s first flight to Central Florida since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The European travel conglomerate left Orlando Sanford International Airport and entered a seven-year contract to operate at Melbourne.
TUI’s passengers can choose vacation packages at more than 100 Florida properties, including 20 Walt Disney World Resort hotels and five Universal Studios Florida hotels:
- 30% stay at a Disney property.
- 30% stay on International Drive.
- 40% are split between Universal, 18 villa options and other areas of Orlando, including Lake Buena Vista.
Brevard County officials hope to “capture” TUI visitors toward the tail end of their trips to spend time — and money — here. The Space Coast Office of Tourism has earmarked $200,000 to market Brevard to TUI’s customers.
What’s more, TUI’s British cruise line Marella Cruises will debut at Port Canaveral next summer, offering voyages to New York; New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; Key West; and the Caribbean.
MLB officials celebrated in similar fashion in November when Allegiant launched nonstop flights to Nashville, Pittsburgh and Concord, North Carolina. Allegiant is Brevard’s first low-cost airline since Spirit canceled operations shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.