Tampa International Airport unfazed by Amazon’s move to Lakeland

"This is really the best for all parties," an airport official says. "Lakeland has the space for Amazon, and we just don't."
Published May 23

TAMPA — Amazon will move its cargo flights from Tampa International Airport to Lakeland by early 2021, but Lakeland's win isn't exactly Tampa's loss.

The move comes as a result of the Lakeland City Commission's vote last week to lease Amazon more than 47 acres at Lakeland Linder International Airport so that the online retailing giant can build a $100 million air cargo complex covering 285,000 square feet. The deal, supported by local and state incentives, is expected to create up to 1,000 new jobs.

THE DEAL: Amazon to add to its presence in Lakeland

So the reaction from Tampa International Airport?

Meh.

"Actually, this is really the best for all parties," Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Janet Scherberger said last week. In the macro sense, she said, growth anywhere in the region is good for everyone. More particularly, "Lakeland has the space for Amazon, and we just don't have the space for them without making a really significant investment. … Really, our priority is passenger service."

To understand why this isn't a big hit for Tampa, consider two factors:

First, operations. Amazon flies six to eight flights a day into or out of Tampa. By comparison, the airport handles a total of 450 to 500 flights a day.

Also, revenue. Amazon pays the airport about $1 million a year for those flights. That's a fraction of the airport's $250 million in annual revenues.

Moreover, passenger traffic, not cargo, drives the airport's main sources of revenue. Parking and ground transportation together account for 30 percent of the total, while car rental brings in 17 percent and concessions make up 11 percent.

Cargo carriers, like passenger airlines, pay landing fees. They also lease space at the airport, but airlines tend to lease more kinds of space: ticket counters, offices and airside gate areas.

At the moment, Amazon isn't saying how many flights a day it plans for the Lakeland hub.

“We look forward to our new Amazon facility at (Lakeland Linder International Airport)," Amazon spokeswoman Rena Lunak said in an email. "Stay tuned for additional details.”

Meanwhile, cargo has been a growing part of the Tampa airport's business, thanks to Amazon, along with FedEx and UPS, each of which have up to seven flights a day. (UPS moved to Tampa from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in 2017.) Last October, airport officials said the amount of cargo landed at the airport had more than doubled since 2015 to 392 million pounds over a 12-month period.

But those operations have taken place in an area northwest of the terminal where airport officials plan to build a new airside by about 2024 with 16 gates for domestic or international passenger service.

"We are going to build that terminal. We're going to need it," Tampa International Airport airport director of research and air service development Kenneth Strickland said recently.

To plan for continued growth in cargo operations, the airport last fall hired Middlesex Corp., headquartered in Littleton, Mass., to begin planning a cargo expansion project estimated at the time to cost about $72 million. As envisioned then, the work was expected to consist of clearing 70 acres east of the main terminal, removing old pavement, then putting in taxiways, connectors, roads and other common-use facilities, though airport officials have said the cost could change as the design evolved and construction went ahead.

With Amazon leaving, airport officials will rethink the scope of the project.

"We still will make some investment in cargo facilities," Scherberger said, "but it won't need to be as big."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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