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Tampa International Airport officials expect slight gain in travelers next year

Sharp declines in passengers at Tampa International Airport should give way to modest growth in the coming year, airport officials say.

Just over 17.5 million travelers will fly into or out of the airport for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, a 2 percent increase over a year earlier, officials forecast in their proposed budget for 2009-10.

"That's not overly optimistic," said Louis Miller, the airport's executive director. "We think Christmas will be better. We think Thanksgiving will be a little better."

The past year has been dreadful. Since October 2008, airline downsizing and shrinking demand for air travel nationally caused a 10 percent drop in passengers at Tampa International Airport from a year earlier.

That blew a hole in the Hills­borough Aviation Authority's budget, reducing revenue from parking, car rentals, airport restaurants and stores. The airport took money-saving measures, from running just one shuttle to airside terminals in off-peak periods to closing escalators and freezing hiring and salaries.

The cost cuts will continue. The authority, with a staff of 636, also will eliminate 21 open jobs and won't fill 18 vacancies. No new preliminary work will begin on the planned $1 billion north terminal. Once slated to open in 2015, the complex now could be pushed back as far as 2023, Miller said.

Even with projected passenger growth, the authority expects revenue to be off nearly 2 percent at $168.8 million for the coming year.

The aviation authority's board is scheduled to vote on the budget at its Sept. 3 meeting.

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

Tampa International Airport officials expect slight gain in travelers next year 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 9:11pm]
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