Tampa International Airport's best shot to bolster its anemic lineup of overseas flights could run through Frankfurt, Mexico City, Panama City and Bogota, Colombia.
Lots of Tampa Bay residents drive to other Florida airports and catch flights to those cities every day. Enough to fill up a daily nonstop flight to each from Tampa International, said Christopher Minner, the airport's vice president of marketing.
"If you look at the data, these markets stand out as being an opportunity today," he said.
But convincing a Lufthansa or Aeromexico to commit a $100 million jet to Tampa won't happen overnight, Minner told members of the airport's governing board Thursday. Landing a new long-haul international flight can take seven to 10 years of convincing airline executives the numbers add up.
"These are very long-range decisions," he said.
Tampa International has long trailed bigger Florida airports in securing and keeping nonstop flights to international markets. Airlines fly to only seven destinations from TIA: London, Grand Cayman Island, Cancun and four cities in Canada, most of which run only in the winter.
Each week, Tampa averages 24 nonstop flights outside the United States, far behind Miami International (1,300), Fort Lauderdale (359) and Orlando International and nearby Orlando Sanford International combined (199).
Joe Lopano, the airport's new chief executive, arrived in January with a mandate to beef up the international schedule. Lopano, the former marketing boss at Dallas/Fort Worth International, reached back to his old employer and brought in Minner, his former air service development chief.
Earlier this month, they traveled to Panama with a delegation of local business executives and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. They made an initial pitch to Copa Airlines for a Tampa International flight.
"It was an excellent first step," Minner told board members. "Tampa wasn't on their radar before this mission."
A study by management consultants Oliver Wyman dug into data on how many people from the greater Tampa Bay area traveled to specific overseas destinations. It showed that new flights to the four target markets would be a hard sell if airlines look only at how many people go to the destination city itself.
But the target cities are all hubs for foreign carriers. So, in addition to the 52 passengers Lufthansa could expect to travel from Tampa to Frankfurt each day, nearly 560 more would fly to Frankfurt and connect to a final destination, such as Rome or Dublin or Amsterdam.
A Panama City flight would attract 196 daily "local and beyond" passengers, the study reported. Bogota should draw 196 per day each way, Mexico City 260.
Potentially the ultimate near-term prize: Southwest Airlines is looking for a U.S. hub for launching international service to the Caribbean. Southwest, TIA's top carrier with 84 daily departures, is expected to make the move in the next few years.
Contact Steve Huettel at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.