Make us your home page
Instagram

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.

One.

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 huettel@sptimes.com 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

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.