The Orlando airport authority has approved an expansion of Orlando International Airport (MCO) so that it can accommodate 45 million passengers a year. The $1.1 billion plan was approved on Wednesday and will allow the airport to grow its capacity almost twice beyond its original design. The current airport facility, originally designed to accommodate 24 million passengers annually, opened in phases beginning in 1981, a decade after the arrival of Walt Disney Co. turned Orlando into a worldwide tourist destination. Previous expansions occurred in 1991 and 2009, according to a GOAA timeline. Airport officials say they are confident a growing number of passengers are on the way because the economy is improving and theme parks are constantly upgrading, including Walt Disney World’s planned “Avatar” land at Animal Kingdom, set to open in 2017. “We hope to grow with our region and attract business,” OIA Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher said. The project includes four additional international gates, an automated people mover, improvements to the ticket hall and baggage screening areas, and a rail terminal to support All Aboard Florida, a train service between Orlando and Miami that is being backed by private investors. As for the possible second terminal, final design and planning for that wouldn’t start until the airport’s passenger counts hit certain benchmarks that would equate to about 40 million passengers a year. “We don’t want to build it before it’s time,” Orlando International director Phil Brown said for the Orlando Sentinel.