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What’s the future of post-pandemic travel? Tampa airport plans to find out

Electric air taxis. Autonomous vehicles. Biometric and touchless equipment. These are some ideas TPA is considering..
A slide show shows emerging technologies that airport consulting firm Ricondo and Associates will look at for Tampa International Airport's 2022 master plan. It includes electric air taxis, autonomous vehicles, self bag drop, biometric gates and new security checkpoints.
A slide show shows emerging technologies that airport consulting firm Ricondo and Associates will look at for Tampa International Airport's 2022 master plan. It includes electric air taxis, autonomous vehicles, self bag drop, biometric gates and new security checkpoints. [ Courtesy of Tampa International Airport ]
Published Nov. 5
Updated Nov. 7

Tampa International Airport is examining how the coronavirus pandemic has affected its growth and future development plans.

Airport officials announced Thursday they will develop a new master plan. That will include conducting a comprehensive study of passenger projections for the next 20 years, airport capacity and emerging trends and technologies.

Electric air taxis, autonomous vehicles, biometric gate checks and touchless equipment are among the travel tools of the future, said airport adviser Pete Ricondo. The airport will look at whether and how to incorporate them.

“Tampa International has always been futuristic,” airport spokesperson Emily Nipps said.

This year, the airport celebrated its 50-year anniversary since opening its revolutionary hub-and-spoke terminal and tram system. The airport plans to continue being at the forefront of air travel, Nipps said.

The new express curbside for flyers without checked bags is one of example of how it is already adapting. Launching it in time for Thanksgiving holiday travels, Tampa was the first airport in the country to offer a feature of this kind designed to decongest busy areas.

Related: Tampa Bay retailers outpacing the nation in COVID recovery, report says

The master plan is a routine assessment done every five to 10 years, as dictated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation. It comes after the airline industry was hit hard by the coronavirus.

Tampa International had about 15.4 million passengers in its 2021 fiscal year, from October 2020 to 2021, according to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. It’s 15 percent more than the year before, but down 30 percent from before COVID-19 shut down air travel.

Tampa International is recovering faster than most national airports. The Aviation Authority reported the airport beat revenue expectations by 6.8 percent, making about $234 million in the year. While ahead of 2020′s fiscal year, it’s still behind 2019, when the airport made $271 million.

“We just went through a pandemic. So much new technology and new ideas came out of that. On top of that, there’s definitely a building demand for travel,” Nipps said. “What that looks like in 20 or 30 years may not look like what we thought it was going to 10 years ago.”

Related: How Tampa and Orlando could become the next ‘megaregion’

The last master plan was done in 2012, with updates in 2016, laying down the foundation for many projects in the airport’s recent expansions such as the SkyConnect transit system, a new rental car center, expansion of the Main Terminal, 70 new shops and restaurants, the new SkyCenter One office building, roadway expansion and the express curbside lanes.

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The upcoming master plan study will also reassess a new airside project the airport temporarily shelved because of the pandemic. Airside D, originally set to add 16 gates for domestic or international flights, was the largest project affected when airport officials announced last year nearly $906 million in construction projects were either delayed or canceled.

Now the airport will reevaluate the number of gates needed for Airside D, update the construction timeline and look into what new technologies could be added.