Attracting more nonstop flights to overseas destinations should be a priority for Tampa International Airport. But there is a right way and wrong way to do everything, and a majority on the airport's governing board did not take the best approach by oversimplifying the challenge and rushing off to find new flights.
The board voted 3-2 Thursday to create a committee to sharpen the airport's efforts at landing international flights. Tampa lawyer Steven Burton, whom Gov. Charlie Crist appointed to the board in July, said businesspeople had complained to him that they could not fly nonstop to major international cities. He and others have criticized TIA for falling behind in overseas flights compared to the major airports in Orlando and South Florida.
Securing more nonstop flights would save business and leisure travelers time and money. It also would expand opportunities for global business in the Tampa Bay area. But airports live and die on one thing: their location. The Orlando area's theme parks are a worldwide destination. Orlando also has thousands of hotel rooms at lower prices than the Tampa Bay area. South Florida is an international market for fashion, real estate, advertising and the arts. There simply is no accurate way to compare international potential between Tampa Bay and these two other regions.
The process of adopting the proposal also was wrong. Burton did not schedule his idea for the agenda. Had he done so, board members could have prepared themselves for the discussion by examining previous studies that showed soft demand from Tampa for overseas nonstop flights. JetBlue Airways scrapped a daily flight to Cancun after the H1N1 flu outbreak. Across the board, the industry has cut capacity and consolidated routes to the major hubs. The question is not simply what Tampa can offer. What is happening in the industry that is shaping these travel trends?
TIA already had a committee that dealt with the international market. If the board majority was dissatisfied with that panel, it at least should have given the staff the courtesy and discretion to think through how to fold those efforts into the work of this new global market committee. TIA is a real success story for the region. It is routinely ranked among the world's best airports. It has easy and inexpensive access to major domestic cities, and it has adapted well to both the economic recession and to the security demands after 9/11. The board needs to be mindful of these achievements and build on them in an inclusive way.