Millions of people vacation at Walt Disney World Resort every year. But very few of them realize that when the park was first built, it had its very own airport.
A quite infamous Disney World map from 1971 shows Disney airfield and its one northwest and southeast-bound runway. Passengers could catch a flight on Shawnee Airlines on a 19-seat DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter. Shawnee Airlines flew directly into Disney’s STOLport from McCoy Airport in Orlando. It was a very short flight, just a few minutes in duration.
In October 1971, both Shawnee and Executive Airlines started flying regular routes to Disney on Twin Otters. Nonstop service to Orlando Herndon, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale was offered by Shawnee. Executive operated two nonstop flights, to Orlando Herndon and Tampa.
The service didn’t last long
Unfortunately, Executive Airlines did not last long and ceased operations in December 1971. By summer of the next year, Shawnee started offering connections with major carriers after moving all operations to Orlando. A timetable from September 1972 lists six daily round trips between Disney and McCoy along with connections to other cities. Shawnee’s nonstop flights from the resort to other cities were discontinued earlier that year.
Shawnee also shut down on December 28, 1972 due to lack of passenger interest and rising debt. That was the end of the commercial airlines operating out of the STOLport. At the time Disney was built, management apparently thought the airport was a good idea but alas, it was a failed experiment in the long run. In fact, Disney officials told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that its shutdown would have little or no effect on the park’s operations.
By the early ’80s, a monorail extension to EPCOT Center had an elevated track on the west end of the runway that blocked larger planes from landing at the STOLport. Mickey Mouse One, Walt Disney’s own private plane, could not even touch down at the private landing field. Instead, World Drive was shut down to traffic so the corporate aircraft could land there and be towed back to the park so it could be displayed in the MGM boneyard.
Runway is used today, just not for airplanes
In 2006, the airstrip was in use again but not for traffic. WDW parked tractor trailers, buses and crates on the runway. A helicopter carrying a preparation team for then-President Bush landed on the airstrip and the monorail did not pose a problem. There are reports of company executives using the airstrip occasionally as well.
Sadly, the Walt Disney World airport is now defunct. After September 11, the airspace over the resort became a protected no-fly zone. It is only a “temporary” flight restriction but it has been in place for years. It is still fun to recall the early days of Disney when there was air traffic to and from the park, bring wide-eyed children and their families to the Happiest Place on Earth.