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Hurricane Irma rains on what would have been Tampa International Airport’s record year

By Richard Danielson
Missing from this photo of Tampa International Airport on Sept. 11, the day after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, are the jets. The aiport closed for not quite three full days and numbers remained down for about two weeks in September. As a result, the airport closed its fiscal year just shy of breaking a 10-year-old record for total passenger traffic. JIM DAMASKE | Times

TAMPA — Hurricane Irma kept Tampa International Airport from breaking a 10-year-old record for total passengers, but the count for the 12 months ending in September was still up 1.6 percent.

The airport saw more than 19.2 million passengers during the 12 months ending on Sept. 30.

"Unfortunately, for the month, Hurricane Irma blew us off course," executive vice president for marketing and communications Christopher Minner told the Aviation Authority’s board on Thursday. "We wound up just 15,000 passengers short of our all-time fiscal year record set back in 2007."

Irma closed the airport for a little less than three full days and put a dent in its numbers for about two weeks, resulting in a passenger loss of about 211,000, an 11.7 percent monthly drop compared to September 2016.

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Still, airport officials say airline traffic remains strong and they expect the calendar results to make 2017 a banner year.

International traffic was up 11.6 percent despite a hurricane-caused dip in September. Icelandair, which began flying to Reykjavík in September, accounted for about 3 percent of the total. Growth in Copa’s traffic to Panama outpaced international passenger growth at the airport as whole.

The airport also took a $1.25 million hit to its bottom line from Irma, nearly $786,000 of it coming from lost or refunded parking revenues. For the year, operating revenues were about $215 million, about what was expected, while expenses were $117.2 million, or 4 percent less than budgeted.

The hurricane had relatively little impact on the airport’s nearly $1 billion construction program, said Al Illustrato, the airport’s executive vice president for facilities and administration. Most projects are on track and within budget. The exception on the schedule is the SkyConnect train station at the main terminal, which now is likely to be done in early 2018, not late this year.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times