Over the next two decades, Tampa International Airport will gain an average of 880,000 new passengers each year. That would take the hub from 21.2 million passengers this year to 38.8 million in 2042 — a 20-year increase of 83 percent.
And the airport is once again thinking about where to put them.
Those updated passenger projections, approved last week by the Federal Aviation Administration, will shape updates to the airport’s long-range master plan, including a new airside terminal and potentially a new runway.
Airport officials laid out its latest set of post-pandemic traffic and passenger forecasts on Monday, during the first of three planned public hearings on its master plan. Those projections will guide FAA-mandated studies of how well-suited airport facilities are to handle millions and millions of new passengers.
“This process is so important, because it helps the airport anticipate and prepare for future demand, prepare a strategy for cohesive development, maintain long-term financial stability, and leverage state and federal funding sources,” Hillsborough County Aviation Authority CEO Joe Lopano said.
Master plan updates take place every few years. This new cycle brings a step-back look in the wake of the pandemic, which brought drastic passenger drop-offs and nearly $1 billion in construction delays.
The airport has recovered in the past year. Domestic passenger counts are approaching 2019 levels, and the airport has in the past year opened a new express curbside and new office tower, SkyCenter One.
Overall passenger counts should get back to their pre-2019 growth track by next year, said Pete Ricondo, project manager with Ricondo & Associates, the aviation consulting firm leading Tampa International’s studies. That recovery will be driven by domestic travelers, he said, with international lagging into 2024.
The airport handled more than 250,000 tons of cargo in 2019; by 2042, that’s expected to be 402,000.
Between now and 2024, the airport will study what measures might be needed to handle all the extra traffic, including a revised timeline for the delayed Airside D, which will have 16 gates servicing international flights. Other potential measures: A new northern terminal and a third parallel runway on the airport’s eastern edge.
Ricondo said those options are nowhere near done deals. The new runway, he noted, has been considered since 1999.
“I would argue that the benefits perceived or conceptualized for that runway back then are probably greater than what exists today,” he said. “We would look at, do you even need it in the next 20 years, or does the current capacity provide you with what you need? If the answer is, ‘No, we need more,’ we would assess that runway and the benefits it offers, and present that to the Aviation Authority.”
By next spring or summer, the airport should have a clearer picture of its short- and long-term needs. It will submit a new implementation plan to the FAA by late next year. Before then, it will host at least two more public meetings. The next one will likely take place in September or October.