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Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano gets 5 percent raise to $475,542

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport's revenues and passenger counts are reaching new heights — and so is airport CEO Joe Lopano's salary.

On Thursday, the airport's governing board gave Lopano a 5 percent raise, bringing his base compensation to $475,542 a year.

Then, when board members began discussing adding in a bonus of $150,000, chairman Robert Watkins said he's a big fan, but hesitated.

Lopano is among the highest-paid airport CEOs in the country — the Washington Post reported in June that CEO salaries at the nation's busiest airports ranged from the low $200,000s to about $496,000 — and Watkins said in light of that, another "$150,000 is a little much."

Still, Watkins joined his colleagues voting for the bonus after the board decided to require that the airport has to finish the year without falling off the record-setting pace it's been on. If it fails to hit a specified budget target, the bonus would be adjusted downward accordingly.

Lopano, 63, has run the airport since Jan. 1, 2011, when his initial salary was $250,000 a year. He oversees 625 employees and an airport that expects to handle more than 20 million passengers this year.

This year, the airport has had its most successful 12 months ever, with record passenger traffic, record revenues and the completion of the first phase of a planned $2 billion expansion.

"What good news to be evaluated by," board member Gary Harrod told Lopano, praising the director's focus on generating revenues and building reserves.

As he listened to a summary of the airport's performance this year, Watkins said his reaction — expressed "in technical terms" — was "Wow!"

"It's hard to see results like that anywhere," he said.

Board member Chip Diehl and Harrod both noted the $1 billion worth of construction projects in the first phase of the airport's expansion came in within 1 percent of the originally projected cost, and Harrod said it's not unusual for big construction projects to run 10 percent over budget. Harrod also noted that Lopano turned down a $50,000 raise in 2011, saying at the time that it was inappropriate in a poor economy.

Meanwhile, Harrod said, the director of the Pittsburgh airport, which handles half the number of passengers as TIA, received a $146,000 bonus this year, and the director of the Dallas airport, which gets more than three times as many passengers, got a $171,000 bonus last year.

The board's votes to approve the raise and bonus were 3-0. The two members of the board who are elected officials, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, were not present for the meeting.

In written reviews submitted before Thursday's board meeting, the aviation authority's five board members gave Lopano near-unanimous ratings of 5 out of 5, or "outstanding," in 14 different areas. Only Crist gave him a lower score, a 4, for "exceptional," in one of the 14 categories.

Lopano's average score from the reviews was 4.99 out of 5, the highest average he's received since the aviation authority began using its current evaluation system in 2013.

BACKGROUND: Tampa International Airport board gives CEO Joe Lopano outstanding ratings

The airport's operating revenues are projected to hit $240.5 million by the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30. That's nearly $25 million more than last year. Through 2019, the airport estimates that its operating revenues — consisting of airline fees and charges, concessions, car rental revenue, parking, cargo and rents — will have risen more than 40 percent since 2013.

Salaries and benefits are projected to come in at just over $68 million this year, or slightly under budget, and are budgeted to grow during 2019.

Along with his base compensation and bonus, Lopano receives a car allowance of $1,000 per month, and an amount equal to one-third of his base salary goes to deferred compensation that he will receive if he stays in his job until April 4, 2021.

By comparison, last year Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson received a 4.5 percent raise to bring his salary to $417,917 a year.

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Contact >Richard Danielson