TAMPA — Tampa International Airport brought out the tulips, bicycles and stroopwafel cookies Wednesday to celebrate news that it’s getting nonstop flights to Amsterdam.
Delta Air Lines will begin the flights next May, giving TIA its fifth destination in Europe and one of its top priorities.
"This sort of announcement, I just want to savor it," airport CEO Joe Lopano said at a news conference as passengers streamed by in the main terminal. "To have a wide-body from Delta Air Lines flying across the Atlantic Ocean is a great service that is envied and wanted by lots of communities around the country."
TIA has seven international carriers and flies to more than a dozen cities around the world. By securing new flights in to Zurich; Frankfurt; Reykjavík, Iceland; and Panama City, Panama, Tampa International has seen its international passenger count grow 126 percent since 2011.
The Amsterdam service is expected to fly every day during peak periods such as the summer and four to five times a week during non-peak periods with extended-range Boeing 767 jets.
Officials estimate the flights will have a local economic impact of $110 million a year, supporting an estimated 1,000 jobs associated with tourism and business travel throughout the Tampa Bay area.
"This solidifies our position as a commercial destination," Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. president Craig Richard said, who said his organization is planning a trade mission to Amsterdam "that will not be hard to fill up."
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is among the busiest is Europe and is one of Delta’s largest European hubs, with connections to destinations as far away as India and Asia via Delta partners KLM, Air France, Alitalia and Jet Airways.
"People talk about, why Amsterdam?" said David Stratchko, Delta’s director of global sales. "When you look at the opportunities to connect to over 80 destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, that’s what this flight will provide. ... We are thrilled to open the world to the Tampa Bay region."
Amsterdam has been one of the airport’s top priorities for new international flights for the past several years, along with Mexico City; Bogota, Colombia; Lima, Peru; Dublin; and Manchester.
To land the Amsterdam flight, the airport will provide an estimated $1.2 million in incentives to Delta. That includes $847,880 in waived landing fees, gate fees and operating fees for two years and $356,154 in reimbursable marketing funds for Delta to promote the route.
That is the airport’s standard package for such a flight, regardless of the airline involved, said Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research and air service development. The airport also intends to apply on Delta’s behalf for funds available from Visit Florida.
In addition, Visit St. Pete Clearwater and Visit Tampa Bay also have committed funds to promote the flight to inbound passengers.
"We know that the people of Amsterdam are going to feel very, very comfortable riding bicycles on our Riverwalk, enjoying the finest cuisine and taking in some of our great art," Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada said.
Airport officials have talked to Delta in the past about opportunities for expansion, but talks picked up in the past few months because Delta has Airbus A350s coming on line, so it had 767s available for new routes, Strickland said.
"That created an opportunity for them to look at markets," he said. Delta talked about operating into one of its European hubs, Amsterdam or Paris, and TIA’s data "spoke to a better case at this time for Amsterdam, into the KLM network and system."
Typically, Stratchko said, most all of Delta’s international service takes place out of a hub.
"To have a flight originate out of a non-hub" like Tampa "is very unique," he said, so a lot of factors have to line up: How many SkyMiles members Delta has in a community? What’s the corporate community like? What’s the opportunity to connect passengers going each way per day?
"Tampa Bay hit all the green lights," he said. "Everything looked good: 134,000 SkyMiles members that are here in the Tampa Bay area, 16,000 (in) the Medallion (program). That is a large number, more so than some of the other markets that we have."
Between the bay area’s top-rated beaches and corporations like Tech Data, Raymond James, Citi and PricewaterhouseCoopers with a large regional footprint, Delta expects "the right mix, getting the right revenue that can sustain the operation," Stratchko said.
Meanwhile, the airport is growing. It saw a record 19.6 million passengers in 2017, its best year since the Great Recession. It is on a pace to surpass 21 million passengers this year and is preparing for 24 million passengers within five years by pursuing an ambitious $2.3 billion master plan to expand passenger facilities, amenities and business development on airport property.
In February, it opened a new car rental center served by a new 1.5-mile SkyConnect train to the main terminal. It also has renovated the main terminal and added 69 new shops, restaurants and services.
By 2023, airport officials aim to add an 8-story office building, two hotels and a gas station, with more airside gates envisioned in the future.