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Tampa International Airport agency to make first layoffs in 65 years

The public agency that runs Tampa International Airport will make the first layoffs in its 65-year history to cope with persistent declines in passenger traffic.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority plans to cut 27 employees, about 4 percent of its work force, by year's end, spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said. Nearly all the job losses will come from the department that plans and supervises construction at Tampa International and three general aviation airports in Hillsborough County.

Major building projects — new terminals, parking garages and support facilities — are triggered by projections of more people flying through an airport.

But Tampa International's passenger traffic peaked at 9.6 million outbound travelers in 2007. Air travel slumped as airlines cut flights to deal with high fuel prices, then the recession. Outbound passenger numbers slipped to 8.5 million at Tampa International in 2009 and are down 3 percent this year.

The declines pushed back time lines for construction, including a $1 billion passenger terminal north of the existing main terminal once expected to open in 2015. Traffic projections now show there isn't need for the structure until 2023.

And that would leave construction managers, inspectors and engineers with a lot of time on their hands, said John Wheat, the authority's interim executive director. The layoffs "are based on a workload situation," he said. "For the next five years, we have rehabilitation, updates and renovations, but no new capacity projects."

George Bean, the airport's boss for 32 years, took pride in keeping the agency's staff lean by hiring private companies to pull much of the load. Executive director Louis Miller changed direction after arriving in 1996. He largely replaced the outside help with agency employees, including a large construction planning and supervising staff.

Head count at the authority grew from 270 in 1996 to more than 600 when Miller resigned in February after conflicts with new board members.

Wheat is trying to fix a short-term issue, not go back to relying more on contractors, he said Friday.

"It's a five-year problem," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa International Airport agency to make first layoffs in 65 years 07/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 10:06pm]

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