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For TIA workers, 'normal' not what it used to be

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 7, 2002


Louis Miller was in Montreal with 2,000 other airport executives Sept. 11 when word came that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Louis Miller was in Montreal with 2,000 other airport executives Sept. 11 when word came that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

"They switched all the video monitors to a network feed, and we saw the second plane hit," said Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

He was standing with Bill Dakota, aviation director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site.

"Bill was devastated," Miller recalled. "All I remember him saying was, 'My God, those are my offices.' Then he fled."

At 9:45 a.m, after a third plane hit the Pentagon, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the first unplanned closure of U.S. airspace in history.

Tampa International Airport came to a standstill.

Although a few planes began flying the next day, a year has passed and TIA is still not back to where it was on Sept. 10, 2001. For Miller and dozens of others who work for the airport, missions have changed irrevocably. These are a few of their stories.

* * *

Louis Miller

For years, aviation had been a growth industry.

"One of the topics we were in Montreal to discuss," Miller said, "was the need to increase airport capacity with new runways, new terminals, new gates, all because of passenger growth. In a matter of seconds, all that's gone and the focus has switched to airport survival."

Miller returned to an eerily quiet TIA after a three-day drive from Montreal in a van with two of his board members. Airport shops remained closed. Most passengers in the main terminal were people who had been stranded in Tampa.

"As CEO of a major public facility, I had to start thinking about how we were going to survive," Miller said. "When I sat down and looked at the numbers, frankly, I anticipated a revenue loss of $30-million."

That would have been a drop of nearly 25 percent of the total aviation authority budget.

The losses turned out to be $15-million, and airline service to Tampa, month after month, has fared better than the national average. Passenger counts at TIA were down only 7.4 percent in July 2002 from July 2001, compared to the national dip of 10.3 percent. The airport has even fared well enough financially to restore some budget cuts.

Still, it hasn't been all good news. Midway Airlines is gone. US Airways has cut service dramatically and declared bankruptcy. United Airlines is talking about bankruptcy. American and Northwest airlines are talking about service cuts.

"Very little is the way it was," Miller said.

* * *

Ed Cooley

Ed Cooley, senior director of operations at TIA, is a pilot. His first response to the television view of a gaping hole in the side of the north tower of the World Trade Center was a pilot's response.

"I couldn't imagine that someone could inadvertently fly into a building in that area," Cooley said. "No one would normally be at that altitude in that area. We were watching in disbelief when the second plane hit. Then we knew. It wasn't inadvertent at all."

With Miller and his deputy out of town, responsibility for TIA fell to Cooley, whose first order was to activate the airport's emergency plan. By Friday, as the airport was beginning the recovery process, Tropical Storm Gabrielle hit.

"A perfect end to the week," he said.

Gradually, operations have regained some normalcy, though with an overriding emphasis on security. As of Oct. 1, two shuttles again will run between the landside terminal and airsides. And air conditioning, cut back through the summer to save money, will return to normal.

"It's going to feel normal, but it's not," Cooley said. "Normal isn't what it used to be."

* * *

Richard Osborn

The morning of Sept. 11 started as most work mornings did for Cpl. Richard Osborn, one of three bomb-dog handlers on the TIA police force. He and Detective Jack Lively had just started their morning training routine with their dogs when their colleague, Detective Frank Major, called to say they should turn on the TV.

"As soon as I saw what was going on," Osborn said, "I told Major to come in so we would have three dog teams visible at the airport as a way of easing people's minds."

There was more work than even three teams could handle. Every inch of the airport had to be searched, including all aircraft parked at ramps, four airsides, the garages and the grounds. More units were brought in from Tampa and Pinellas County.

The attacks prompted the retirement of Osborn's Belgian Malinois, Keno, and Lively's Labrador-greyhound, Kramer. Although both were fully qualified bomb dogs, the airport elected to go with new ones, trained and paid for by the Transportation Security Administration. Keno and Kramer are doing well as pets in their handlers' homes.

"We do a lot of training (with the new dogs) in ticket lines and at the gates because we want the dogs used to working when there's a lot going on around them," Osborn said. "We get people who just follow us around watching the dogs. When they get something right, people start applauding."

* * *

Lou Counsel

For Lou Counsel, the shoeshine specialist in the barber shop on the blue side of the Landside terminal, business was good on the morning of Sept. 11.

"Usually September is pretty busy for us, and that was a pretty busy morning," Counsel said. "Then, of course, after the attacks started to unfold, it went dead, and eventually they told us to go home.

"We came back in on Wednesday, but there was no business then, either, because the airport was closed, so they sent us home again. Then the storm hit, and they told us to stay at home. It was the beginning of a bad year.

The attacks continue to have an impact even now, and Counsel has lost old lunchtime customers who used to drive into the airport's short-term parking and duck in for a shine.

"I'm entertaining thoughts of looking for another job," he said. "But the thing about shoeshining is that this is the best place to be. It used to be bus and train stations. But not any more. Now it's airports.

"Until the last year."

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