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Tampa International Airport braces for impact — and hopes for a speedy reopening

“As a critical infrastructure for the state, we are doing our best to stay open as long as possible to support the citizens of the Tampa Bay region,” the CEO said Tuesday morning.
Tampa International Airport will cease commercial flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday evening.
Tampa International Airport will cease commercial flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday evening. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Sep. 27|Updated Sep. 27

TAMPA — The morning after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tampa International Airport will cease commercial flights at 5 p.m. Tuesday due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Ian, the airport’s CEO, Joe Lopano, addressed reporters from the soon-to-be-shuttered main terminal.

“As a critical infrastructure for the state, we are doing our best to stay open as long as possible to support the citizens of the Tampa Bay region,” he said.

“Right now our priority is to protect our employees and our facilities,” he said, adding that after Ian passes the focus will shift to a safe and speedy reopening to assist with recovery efforts.

The closure will enable the airport, which sees around 450 flights on a typical day, to secure aircraft, jet bridges and ground equipment. Visitors will not be permitted. The airport will reopen once it can safely assess damage, survey road conditions and bring in staff.

Hurricane Ian continued to strengthen Tuesday as it moved over Cuba, with winds of at least 111 mph.

Related: Tuesday Live Updates: Tampa Bay in final hours of prep as Hurricane Ian nears

“Tampa International Airport is extremely close to Tampa Bay, and storm surge and flooding are obviously a top concern for us,” executive vice president of operations and customer service John Tiliacos said at the same news conference Tuesday morning.

The airport is located in an evacuation zone but is considered critical infrastructure and can stay open as long as needed.

Tiliacos cautioned those considering heading to the airport for safety during the storm. “The airport is not a shelter,” he said. “We do not have the resources to serve as a shelter for vehicles and people during a hurricane.”

Passengers stuck at the airport at 5 p.m. will be taken to nearby shelters, Tiliacos said.

Related: Do you plan to stay in a shelter for Hurricane Ian? Here’s what to expect.

Lopano, the CEO, said he would be spending the storm at the airport, along with a team of volunteer storm riders — approximately 120 employees with specialty expertise who have trained for such an event. Lopano also rode out Hurricane Irma in 2017 at Tampa International.

He said the economic impacts of the airport’s closure will be in the millions of dollars. “Unfortunately, Ian is not giving us a choice,” he said.

Tampa International saw outbound flight delays tick up throughout the day Monday, with people trying to leave the area set to be battered by Hurricane Ian.

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport also is closing Tuesday, with its last flight out scheduled to depart at 11:22 a.m. The airport terminal will close at 1 p.m. Tuesday and remain closed until Pinellas County lifts its zone A evacuation order, which went into effect at 6 p.m. Monday.

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

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