Make us your home page

New director wants Tampa International Airport to offer more international nonstops

Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers handles fewer than half as many passengers as Tampa International, yet has the same number of nonstop flights to Europe.


TIA's new boss, Joe Lopano, hopes to reverse his airport's long-standing failure to improve international service by taking a page from the playbook of his neighbor to the south.

As it turns out, the Fort Myers Metro area is home to more than 93,000 Germans and people of German ancestry. That's why Air Berlin, Germany's second-biggest airline, offers direct flights to its hub in Dusseldorf.

Does that explain why Lopano now wants to know how many Europeans own property in Tampa Bay?

"Exactly,'' he says.

Lopano spent much of his career selling airlines on the idea of flying very expensive planes to Dallas-Fort Worth International, the nation's fourth-largest airport. He helped steer new nonstop flights from such international destinations as Paris, Tokyo and Amsterdam to DFW.

His blueprint for duplicating that success goes like this: Do your homework. Think like an airline. Remember every airport with a long runway is your competitor.

"You're asking the airline to bring a $200 million airplane and spend $150,000 to fly it (each way)," Lopano said. "That's a major commitment."

He should have plenty of targets. You can count TIA's nonstop destinations outside the continental U.S. and Canada on one hand: London, Cancun, the Cayman Islands and San Juan.

Three consultants are assembling data to help narrow the search. Next month, Oliver Wyman Inc. will identify potential destinations and airlines that might fly them.

Europe seems the obvious place to start looking. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from Europe flock to Florida's West Coast each year. Airlines know the published air traffic statistics, "but not what's driving that," Lopano said.

He's seeking a comprehensive list of local companies with branch offices in Germany and records on how many Europeans own property in the four-county Tampa Bay area.

Airport marketers need to build a case that the new flight will be profitable over time and find an airline that's ordering new planes or unhappy with an underperforming destination. They start selling the plan to airline route planners, then hope it bubbles up to the executive suite.

"Once they get engaged looking at your numbers, then you're in the hunt," Lopano said. "But everybody's a competitor. An aircraft can fly 5,000 miles — from Europe to Asia or Europe to Africa, as well as the U.S."

Tampa International faces tough competition. Orlando International hosts nonstop flights to 11 markets in the Caribbean, Central and South America, plus London, Dublin and Paris.

For years, many Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay drove to Orlando to fly home or pick up visiting relatives.

American Airlines has just one daily flight to San Juan from TIA, with fares much higher than AirTran Airways, JetBlue and Spirit charge from Orlando International, said Jolie Gonzalez of the Tampa Latin Chamber. Plus, they offer more schedule options.

"Flights in Orlando are half the price or even less," she said. "Last time, my dad paid just $151.75 on AirTran or JetBlue."

That will change next month. In September, TIA signed up both AirTran and JetBlue to fly nonstop to San Juan. AirTran will start with one daily flight April 5 and add another in May. JetBlue launches with one flight in May and adds a second in June. American stops flying the route April 1.

Orlando looms as major competition for a much bigger prize.

Southwest Airlines wants to fly outside the continental U.S. for the first time in its 40-year history. The huge discount carrier's pending takeover of AirTran, which flies to a handful of Caribbean destinations, could speed up those plans.

Southwest and AirTran can't talk about operating as a single airline until the deal closes by June at the latest. But a Caribbean expansion would require an airport hub, with Florida as the most logical location.

Orlando officials are pressing Southwest, the largest airline at the airport. The state and the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority gave AirTran $4.7 million toward a new operations center that opened last summer, plus $700,000 in tax incentives.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly was noncommittal about an international hub during a visit to Orlando last month,

Southwest holds the largest share of passengers at TIA — 32 percent now and nearly 40 percent after the merger is complete. Lopano visited Southwest headquarters last month and said the international hub is a big deal for the airport.

"It's definitely on our radar screen," he said. "Southwest is very, very important, and we are very engaged with them."

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (727) 893-8128.

New director wants Tampa International Airport to offer more international nonstops 03/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 5, 2011 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager …

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  2. Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront


    TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

    Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell, co-authors of "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History and Development," stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. McKay, who passed away in 1876, was a prominent businessman, among other things, in the Tampa area. He was Arthur Savage's great great grandfather. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Tampa's connected-vehicle program looking for volunteers


    TAMPA — Drivers on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway can save on their monthly toll bill by volunteering to test new technology that will warn them about potential crashes and traffic jams.

    A rendering shows how new technology available through the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority will warn driver's about crashes, traffic jams, speed decreases and more. THEA is seeking 1,600 volunteers to install the devices, which will display alerts in their review mirrors, as part of an 18-month connected-vehicle pilot.
  4. What Florida's top Republicans are saying about Donald Trump

    State Roundup

    Republicans nationwide are blasting President Donald Trump for how he responded to Charlottesville.

  5. Tampa Bay Lightning, Amalie Arena to host job fair today


    TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning and its home, Amalie Arena, are hosting a part-time job fair from 3 to 6 p.m. today on the Promenade Level of the arena. Available positions include platinum services, parking attendants, event security, housekeeping, retail and many other departments.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning and AMALIE Arena is hosting a part-time job fair on Thursday, Aug. 17 on the Promenade level of the arena.