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PolitiFact Florida: Measuring the benefits of international flights to TIA

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is defending a program to offer financial sweeteners for airlines that fly nonstop international routes out of Tampa International Airport.

The potential benefits of even one new daily flight outweigh the costs in incentives, Buckhorn said during a recent interview with WEDU-Ch. 3's Rob Lorei on his Florida This Week program.

"One international flight a day in a wide-bodied jet … one flight daily generates $150 million a year and approximately 2,300 jobs when that money spreads out into the local economy," Buckhorn told Lorei.

We heard the numbers and wondered: Could just one new daily international flight pack that economic punch?

In an interview with PolitiFact Florida, Buckhorn said his figures came from the airport. We found a study presented by an airport consultant in March.

But his numbers didn't quite match up. It turns out he cherry-picked one figure and inflated the other.

The $150 million a year Buckhorn cited was predicted only for European or Asian flights. The majority of the new routes sought by Tampa are instead to Central and South America. The study said those would have less than half the value to the local economy, under $70 million per new route.

On the jobs figure, it appears Buckhorn misspoke. Even flights to Europe or Asia would only add around 1,200 jobs to the local economy, the study showed. Not 2,300.

We also decided to look at the study itself, since quoting economic impact studies can be troublesome.

John Kasarda, an expert in aviation-driven economic development at the University of North Carolina, said the study's basic numbers — $150 million and 1,200 jobs — were "consistent with economic impact studies of international routes by wide-body jets."

We also spoke with Christina Cassotis, the consultant who presented the $25,638 study's findings in March. She explained that to estimate the impact of, say, a daily flight to Europe, you've got to pick an aircraft type — in this case, an Airbus 330. They picked a price for fuel, and how much the aircraft might burn (and therefore buy in Tampa) — a $14 million impact.

They made some other basic assumptions — that about 2 percent of flights would get canceled, that 15 percent of seats might stay empty. They looked into other spending at the airport itself, worth a few million bucks more.

Then they looked at impact outside the airport. They estimated that more than 75 percent of passengers would be visitors to the area, rather than locals — and spend more than $70 million. (The airport offered a breakdown of visitors vs. locals; Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater had research on how long they might stay; U.S. Department of Commerce studies helped with what they might spend.)

Once they calculated that direct and indirect spending — at the airport and in the community — they did a calculation of how that money might move through the economy, known as spinoff or "induced" impact. An economics expert with Economic Development Research Group in Boston used a common model, called IMPLAN, to help calculate a multiplier, which varies by geography and industry. This one ended up being reasonably modest, as multipliers go — adding another $64 million.

Our ruling

The mayor drew on a consultant's study to support the need to lure international flights to Tampa. But he chose an economic impact of $150 million for his generalization — when just one of the airport's five target areas is in Europe. The rest are in Central and South America, which the study says would generate less than half the economic impact he mentioned.

Meanwhile, he misspoke on the jobs number, nearly doubling it. Still, the study does support the idea that a new flight's impact might justify local hustle and incentives, the core of Buckhorn's argument. We rule his statement Half True.

The statement

"One international flight a day in a wide-bodied jet ... one flight daily generates $150 million a year and approximately 2,300 jobs."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Sept. 2, in an interview on WEDU-TV

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Half true

Buckhorn cherry picks the dollar figure and inflates the jobs number. Still, he is accurately citing a study that says Tampa would see economic benefits from new international flights. We rate this statement Half True.

PolitiFact Florida: Measuring the benefits of international flights to TIA 09/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 12:25am]

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