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Business looking up at TIA

The airport gains a new flight to London and sees concession sales regain profitability.

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


TAMPA -- Tampa International Airport is continuing to recover from the economic turmoil created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, based on reports Thursday from airport officials.

One positive sign is that British Airways has decided to add a fifth weekly flight between Tampa and London's Gatwick International Airport in October. The airline added a fourth flight between TIA and London just a month ago.

TIA, which has gone through a period of stagnant international service, including a dip in passenger counts of nearly 11 percent in March below levels a year earlier, expects to use British Airways' enthusiasm for the bay area market to lure other international carriers.

"British Airways has been doing very, very well here," said George Elbe, TIA's director of air service development. "It's a start for us to go after some other international traffic. There's no question this will help us."

Only a year ago, British Airways was considering pulling out of TIA completely. Now, not only will service between London and Tampa increase, the planes will be more comfortable. Beginning in June, Elbe said, the Boeing 777s that fly the Tampa-to-Gatwick route will show up with 81 percent more seats in business class and coach seating that is reduced from 10 seats to nine across.

Overall TIA traffic, domestic and international, was down in March by 4.4 percent compared with a year earlier, but that's considerably better than the national airport average, which was down 10 percent.

And while passenger traffic is still down compared with pre-Sept. 11 activity, airport concession revenues increased for the first time in March, rising 0.6 percent above March 2001.

The best performers were:

The combined Burger King/Taco Bell franchises in the Landside terminal, which saw revenue climb by more than 42 percent over a year earlier.

Revenue from the combined food and beverage concessions in Airside F, which rose more than 35 percent.

The Museum Company in the Landside terminal, where sales grew by nearly 21 percent.

General merchandise sales at Airside F, which grew by nearly 24 percent.

"There are some areas that are still of concern to us," Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, told his board Thursday. "The Marriott (Hotel) is still down (nearly 12 percent) and In-Flight Kitchens are still down (more than 29 percent). But the bottom line is positive for the first time since September."

Rental cars, one of the airport's biggest sources of revenue, showed a 3.3 percent gain over a year earlier, with all companies improving except Hertz Corp., down nearly 7 percent.

Other concessions still off in revenue compared with last year were Body Scentsations, down more than 16 percent, Sports Scene, down more than 20 percent, and Wilsons Leather, down 14 percent.

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