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Pan Am reduces gates at Tampa

Pan American World Airways _ struggling to survive in bankruptcy proceedings _ has given up the long-term lease on its 10-gate airside terminal at Tampa International Airport in favor of renting two gates on a month-to-month basis. The financially beleaguered carrier will continue its six-departure-a-day service from the two gates.

The move is the latest chapter in the airport's ongoing financial difficulties triggered by the continuing economic shakeout in the airline industry.

Pan Am's decision to pull out of the long-term lease means the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority now has total control of three of its five airside terminals. Pan Am is one of three carriers serving Tampa that are under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while trying to reorganize. Continental Airlines and Midway Airlines Inc. are the other two.

Eastern Airlines' terminal has been empty since the carrier and Eastern Express, a separately owned commuter airline, stopped flying in January.

Airport officials now are talking about investing up to $10-million to spruce up the old Eastern airside for either American Airlines or Continental if they would beef up service.

Pan Am took over the master lease for its terminal from defunct National Airlines years ago. Continental now subleases two of the 10 gates from Pan Am.

"We're not down-sizing our service at Tampa, only right-sizing the facility we rent for it," said Pan Am spokesman Alan Loflin. "It was built when National had 36 departures a day there. We do not need 115 feet of ticket counter for two gates."

Pan Am is scheduled to submit a reorganization plan to the bankruptcy court Sept. 4. U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner recently gauged Pan Am's chances of survival as "short term."

Airport officials have mixed feelings about the terminal lease.

"On one hand it's unfortunate we'll have more unused gates, but fortunately this time they won't get tied up in bankruptcy court," said authority director George Bean. "We can try to peddle them right away."

The authority did not get control of the Eastern terminal until six months after Eastern shut down.

Officials recognize, however, that they will face a multimillion-dollar renovation bill to outfit Pan Am's terminal for another master tenant.

Carrier bankruptcies have cost the authority plenty this year. The authority stands to lose $1-million in back rent from airlines that were not current before filing for protection. Pan Am was about $350,000 in arrears when it filed for protection. The authority will have to wait more than a year to find out whether it gets any of it.

Recession and war added to the money woes. Traffic is down. And four months of beefed up security cost the airport about $800,000 in lost parking revenues. Security now has been relaxed. Sopeople bringing friends and relatives to catch flights are starting to stay awhile rather than dropping them off at the door and leaving.

"Our parking revenue is bouncing back, but my concern is we've made a permanent change in the way many people take friends and relatives to the airport," said finance director Jim Free.

In other action, the authority:

Moved ahead with plans to refinance a 1981 bond issue. Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman earlier threatened to hold up the $73.6-million issue because an out-of-town law firm with connections to former Gov. Bob Martinez's office was picked as bond counsel. Her cause was not taken up by the City Council and County Commission, both of which approved the choice.

Agreed to issue its own special-revenue bonds to finance a $27-million hangar for USAir Group Inc. instead of using industrial revenue bonds. Because the authority would own the building, the move is supposed to save USAir about $750,000 in property taxes annually plus sales taxes on construction materials and interest payments.