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9/11 loosens grip on TIA services

Cuts due to terrorism should be restored by October. The comeback is outpacing most airports.

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 19, 2002

Cuts due to terrorism should be restored by October. The comeback is outpacing most airports.

TAMPA -- All the services that Tampa International Airport officials cut to save money after the Sept. 11 attacks should be fully restored by the first of October.

That means two trams again will run between the landside terminal and each airside, all the escalators and elevators will operate and the air conditioning will be 2 to 4 degrees cooler.

TIA also plans to launch $500-million in capital improvement projects by fall 2003, funded almost entirely from ticket taxes, federal grants and airport revenues. Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, told his board Thursday that TIA will have to borrow just $39-million to fund the projects.

The plans reflect the airport's steady recovery from the economic impacts of Sept. 11, a comeback significantly stronger than average for the nation's 429 commercial airports.

In June, for example, passenger counts at TIA were about 5 percent lower than June of 2001, while they were down more than 10 percent nationwide.

"We're in a solid position in terms of both operations and revenue, and I think we're ready to move on," Miller said.

Just one week before Sept. 11, the Aviation Authority board approved a 2002 budget that anticipated revenue of $129.7-million. Following the attacks and several days when the nation's airspace closed, flights fell off, and passenger counts fell with them.

The authority's revenue projections plummeted to $119-million. Now, with the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, revenues are expected to top $121.6-million and jump next year to more than $134-million. That will help fund a new baggage handling system, which will take checked luggage from the check-in point directly to flights. This system also will incorporate equipment for detecting explosives through which every checked bag must pass by year's end. When the new Airside E opens in October, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will move in, and their current home, Airside C, will be closed either for renovation or reconstruction.

The service building across the road from the red side baggage claim area will be expanded to accommodate the relocation of the car rental desks. Moving them will create more space for larger baggage carousels and alleviate peak travel congestion when baggage crowds and car-rental crowds tend to trample one another.

"This budget assumes completely normal operations for 2003," said John Wheat, deputy director of the Aviation Authority.

Because Airside E is 120,000 square feet larger than Airside C, it will generate more lease revenue, Wheat said. Airside E also will have more concessions, operations from which TIA gets a cut.

Revenue is expected to go up almost across the board, including revenue from food and beverages, the Marriott hotel, sales of general merchandise, the duty-free shops, advertising, parking and flight kitchens.

However, the outlook for rental cars, the second-largest revenue generator after parking, continues to be bleak. With business travel down significantly in a flagging economy and leisure travel down slightly, rental car revenue fell from an anticipated $21.2-million to $20.3-million this year and is expected to decline again to $19.9-million next year.

Food and beverage revenue is actually being helped by tighter security, Miller said.

"People traveling are anxious to get out to their gates as soon as they can because they're afraid of the long security lines," he said. "Well, there aren't long security lines, so they get to their gates with an hour and a half to spare. So they go to a restaurant, or a bar, or they buy trinkets for the kids."

Expect things to be plenty crowded in the terminal during the holidays, as usual. But one place there won't be the squeeze of past years is in parking. In October, a new employee parking lot will open. When that happens, the 1,400 spaces in the employee lot, next to remote parking, will be available to the public.

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