Last August, Tampa airport officials were staring down a budget shortfall of $76 million due to slashed passenger traffic, and steeling themselves for a tighter fiscal year.
One year later, as the air travel industry continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, they’re aiming for record annual revenues.
A draft budget presented to Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board members on Thursday pointed to better-than-expected revenues for the current fiscal year, which ends in September, and increased passenger counts and even higher revenues next year.
Tampa International Airport projects it will serve a total of 15.6 million passengers from October 2020 through September, and is projecting 20.6 million passengers in the year beyond that, nearly matching its total from 2018.
Such traffic would boost revenues for the 2022 fiscal year to a record $283.1 million. That’s about $35 million shy of its pre-pandemic, long-term projections for 2022. It’s still 22 percent higher than this year’s projected total of $231.9 million, and it even tops than the agency’s 2019 revenues of $271.7 million.
“Pending any significant impact to travel due to the Delta variant, we are optimistic on the continued recovery of Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Bay area in general,” Damian Brooke, the airport’s executive vice president of finance and procurement said via email. “Our region is a desirable destination and combined with our diversified revenue streams, we are in a strong position to see long-term growth.
The proposed budget does outline some challenges. The authority expects to see higher operating expenses as air travel returns to normal, which would eat into net revenue, and it’s looking at new costs associated with the opening of Tampa International Airport’s new SkyCenter office building. The budget also outlined plans for a new bond sale worth around $515 million to pay down debt and fund about $438 million in capital projects.
The budget also projected “optimism,” it stated, that it would “accelerate” part of the $906 million in capital projects that it delayed early in the pandemic, such as Airside D, a new hub of 16 domestic and international gates. It also stated that “faster-than-anticipated traffic recovery” would result in even more new customer service and operations projects being added to its capital improvement plan.
Among the projects planned for the 2022 fiscal year: A $60.5 million replacement for shuttle trams at airsides A and C; a $53.9 million expansion of security check areas at airsides A and E; and a $26.4 million shuttle station to Airside D.
From January to June, Tampa International Airport saw 8.2 million total passengers. Other than last year, it’s the lowest total for the first six months of any year in more than a decade.
But airport officials believe a few new routes, including one to Portland, Ore., and several others through the new low-cost carrier Breeze Airways, are contributing to a “rapid recovery,” according to the proposed budget.
Brooke said that long-term, the Aviation Authority expects to continue its growth past 2022.
“Our current financial position is due to years of planning and conservative financial decisions,” he said. “We are bullish on the future of the Tampa Bay region as a whole and expect our financial results to continue to improve as we move forward.”
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board will vote on the proposed budget in early September.