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Tampa International Airport votes to give airlines incentives for adding flights

Airlines can expect more than the standard fire truck water salute when they bring new flights to Tampa International Airport. Now, they could qualify for cash and free rent.

In a break with long tradition, the airport's governing board voted Monday to offer airlines financial incentives for launching new service from Tampa.

An airline starting daily flights to Europe with a widebody 767 jet can get nearly $2.5 million in airport fee waivers and advertising money over two years. Shorter international flights and new domestic service qualify for smaller incentives.

"If you want to succeed in this arena, you've got to have the tools, and this is one of those tools," said Joe Lopano, the airport's CEO. "You're not competitive if you don't have a program."

Lopano came to Tampa in January with a mandate to bolster TIA's puny schedule of international flights.

Each week, Tampa averages just 24 nonstop flights outside the United States, consisting mostly of flights to Canada and British Airways' daily flight to London.

That puts the airport far behind Miami International (1,300 nonstop international flights), Fort Lauderdale (359) and Orlando International and nearby Orlando Sanford International combined (199).

Lopano served as chief airline recruiter at Dallas-Fort Worth International for more than a decade. He helped develop one of the nation's richest incentive programs and attracted dozens of new routes to the nation's fourth-busiest airport.

Tampa International is targeting five international destinations: Frankfurt, Germany; Bogota, Colombia; Panama City, Panama; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Mexico City.

A TIA consultant told board members that airlines now expect airports to shell out for advertising and let them use runways and ticket counters for free in return for new service.

Damon Hylton of Seabury APG ticked off a list of big incentives used by other airports: Daytona Beach International, $816,000 for two turboprop flights to Miami; Maryland, $11 million to keep a British Airways flight to London from leaving Baltimore; Panama City, Fla., a $24 million revenue guarantee to attract Southwest Airlines.

"It's a way to partner with the airline … say that we're going to take some risk, too," Hylton said.

The Pinellas Tourist Development Council told Lopano this month it would consider kicking in money for advertising from a $200,000 budget for recruiting new airline flights.

Lopano pledged a modest increase in marketing funds in the airport budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Tampa International will need to pay the value of landing fee and rent waivers out of its discretionary budget for building projects and airport renovations.

Board members unanimously approved the incentive program with little discussion. "We're going to have to take some moderate risks to move forward," said board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.

Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport had mixed success with 30 incentive deals between 2001 and 2008. Thirteen ended with airlines closing down new routes when incentives ran out. Still, the airport made twice as much money from airlines that continued flying after the incentives ended than it lost from the ones that left, said spokesman Greg Meyer.

Lopano says Tampa International will make money on incentives. Revenue from passengers taking the new flights — parking charges, food and drink — will exceed the costs, he said.

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

In other Tampa International Airport news

The biggest surprise at Monday's board workshop was the revival of an old idea: putting Tampa International and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport under a single agency. Victor Crist, representing the Hillsborough County Commission, said the change could save money and create a more efficient operation . "I think it's a worthy issue to discuss," he said. "The discussion ought to start now.'' He hopes CEO Joe Lopano will talk with Tampa Bay officials to test the waters.

Also at the workshop, Lopano previewed new "comfort zones" planned on the third-floor transfer level. Located between the airside shuttle stops, the mini lounges will have comfortable seating and widescreen TVs. Meet-and-greeters will watch messages about area tourist attractions, and economic development opportunities and commercial advertising, Lopano said. The first should be ready early next year.

Tampa International Airport votes to give airlines incentives for adding flights 06/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 12:22am]

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