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Icelandair confirms it's pulling out of Tampa International Airport because of 737 Max groundings

Icelandair started flying out of Tampa International Airport in fall 2017, but airport officials said Monday it was pulling out of the market. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2018)]
Published Jun. 18

TAMPA — Icelandair, one of Tampa International Airport's highly touted success stories, has ceased offering nonstop flights to or from Tampa as a result of grounding the Boeing 737 Max jets in its fleet.

"Due to the 737 Max grounding, we have had to make adjustments in our schedule," the airline said Monday night in response to inquiries from the Tampa Bay Times. Earlier this year, regulators around the world grounded the plane following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. The 737 Max jets account for 14 percent of Icelandair's fleet, and its withdrawal from Tampa follows similar cutbacks in Cleveland and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I don't think any airline can lose that big a portion of their fleet and not have it trickle down to their entire network and impact where they can continue to fly," said Kenneth Strickland, Tampa International Airport's director of research and air service development.

Tampa International Airport officials learned of the change last month.

"Fortunately, even with their departure, our international passenger growth trend continues," airport spokeswoman Janet Scherberger said in an email. "Scheduled seat capacity to Europe is up about 30 percent this winter thanks to increased frequencies on Lufthansa and Norwegian. The start of Amsterdam service on Delta Air Lines is also moving us in a positive direction."

"Icelandair represented a tiny fraction of our passengers — about 0.1 percent (a 1/10th of a percent) of our overall annual passengers year-to-date and less than 2 percent of international passengers," Scherberger said. "So far this year, international passenger traffic is up more than 16 percent."

The airline's withdrawal comes less than two years after Tampa International Airport celebrated the launch in September 2017 of twice-weekly nonstop service to Reykjavík, Iceland on Icelandair. And in February 2018, airport officials announced that the service was increasing to four times a week during its nine-month season from September through early June.

"We've been seeing a great demand for these flights in the Tampa Bay area market and we're thrilled to not only increase the service but double the service between Tampa and Reykjavik," said Icelandair North America marketing and public relations manager Michael Raucheisen said in a statement at the time. "We expect this to be a great partnership for years to come."

On Monday, however, Icelandair's ticket counters at Tampa International were empty, and the airline's online reservations portal included no options for flying into or out of Tampa, nor did Tampa appear on a map of its destinations. The airline's website did still offer flights out of Orlando International Airport.

Tourism officials in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties worked for five years to bring and expand the Icelandair flights. Tampa airport officials have estimated that Icelandair's four-times-a-week flights would create 259 local jobs and generate a direct economic impact of $28.4 million a year. The airport described Western Europe and Scandinavia as a "key emerging market" for the airport because of their robust economies and propensity to travel.

The departure of Icelandair's service is the second setback the airport has sustained in recent months to what has otherwise been a growing roster of international flights.

COMPETITION, RELATIONSHIPS, DATA: Putting the 'international' in Tampa International Airport

In April, the airport said Delta's nonstop service to Amsterdam, which made its debut last month, will be seasonal rather than year-round, at least to start. When the airport announced the Amsterdam flights last summer, the initial plan was for year-round service. Delta did not give a reason for the change — though Tampa airport officials said transatlantic competition had ramped up since the initial announcement — but the airline said it does remain committed to the Tampa-to-Amsterdam service.

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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