TAMPA — Nearly two decades later, Tampa International Airport will receive more than $15.9 million from the federal Transportation Security Administration for installing machines to detect explosives in suitcases following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"This is a really big deal for us, something that we’ve been working on for 17 years," airport spokeswoman Janet Scherberger said Thursday. "We’re really grateful to all the current and former lawmakers who helped us along the way. A truly bipartisan effort."
The money is a fraction of what it cost to install the explosive-detection equipment at TIA, which in 2004 became the first large airport in the country to have a fully integrated and adaptable screening system designed to prevent flight delays if one part of the system broke down.
By then, the new systems at TIA, including explosive detection machines about the size of a sport utility vehicle, had cost $124 million.
"They’re very cool, but they’re very expensive at the same time," TSA regional spokesman Mark Howell said.
And security setups vary from airport to airport, depending on all kinds of factors, including the layout of the airport, the number of airlines involved and the number of bags to be checked. Some airports, like Tampa, have complex systems of belts and carriers to convey luggage from point to point. Others have the machines set up next to the ticket counter for check in. So the costs — validated by TSA after the projects were done — vary from place to place.
Fourteen airports around the country, five of them in Florida, will receive reimbursements totalling $50 million, according to a summary from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.
In 2015, then-U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg, was instrumental in getting language in an omnibus bill that directed TSA to look at airports’ claims for reimbursement, Scherberger said.
Rubio helped make sure funds were distributed equitably, she said. With $69.3 million in expenses eligible for reimbursement, Tampa International Airport accounted for nearly a third of all $217.8 million eligible expenses nationwide, and it got almost a third of the reimbursements approved.
Sen. Bill Nelson for several years coordinated correspondence on the issue, as did Rep. Dan Webster, Scherberger said. Congressman Tom Rooney played a key role in the appropriations process. Representatives Kathy Castor, Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross and Vern Buchanan always included the reimbursement as a funding priority.
"This money is long overdue," Rubio said in a statement released by his staff. "Florida hosts millions of visitors every year, and we must ensure that our airports have the resources necessary to uphold the highest safety standards. I will continue to fight for Florida aviation to ensure they are fully reimbursed for these important investments."
In the Tampa Bay area, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport will receive a $105,545 reimbursement. Elsewhere in Florida, TSA is slated to reimburse:
• $6.4 million to Orlando.
• $4 million to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
• $3.7 million to Jacksonville.
Other reimbursements will go to Chicago’s Midway airport, plus airports in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Richmond, Va., Atlantic City, N.J., and Anchorage, Alaska, among others.
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times