The pandemic made 2020 one of air travel’s worst years, especially for airports.
Passenger counts at Tampa International Airport dropped to their lowest levels since 1993. Airport executives projected a shortfall in operating revenue to the tune of $74.6 million by September. And airport officials pushed back $906 million in construction projects through 2025.
But the drop in travel had a silver lining: Construction crews working on major renovations at Tampa International could put in longer hours without disturbing passengers. As a result, a handful of projects included in the airport’s $2 billion “master plan” are ahead of schedule.
Tampa International is currently in its second of three phases for the plan. Much of the current phase is scheduled to be finished later this year or early next. Among the slated projects are building a new Taxiway A Bridge, a new plant that controls utilities such as air conditioning for the airport and a nine-story office building and atrium called SkyCenter.
Three are further along than expected because of the pandemic, according to airport spokesperson Danny Valentine.
The Blue Side departures side of the airport is getting eight express curbside lanes for checking luggage faster. Tampa International closed the area for a few weeks last spring to hasten the work at the height of the traveler dip, and it is now expected to be completed two months early in late October.
One of the major aspects visitors will notice when they approach the airport is the road-widening project. A lane is being added on either side of George J. Bean Parkway, and the overhead signs that direct drivers are also being replaced. The work will finish in November, three months early.
And Taxiway A Bridge, which connects the east and west runways, was completed over the pandemic. This allows other airport vehicles to travel from one to the other without crossing in front of planes. It is the third bridge to connect its main runways.
Tampa International also demolished the Red Side rental car garage and Airside D shuttle guideway on schedule. They were removed to make room for the curbside express lanes.
And while supply-chain shortages have delayed or added costs to construction projects around the country, spokesperson Valentine said that the pricing and supplies for the airport’s current efforts were already locked in pre-pandemic.
Not everything leapt forward, however. Among the nearly $1 billion in projects that were shelved or rescheduled is Airside D, a $690 million effort to build 16 gates for domestic or international flights. The Red Side rental garage demolition also helped make room for the shuttle guideway that will go to Airside D. While it was originally projected to finish in late 2024, that date was pushed out four more years.
The other projects affected in that category are still under evaluation.