More screeners tighten parking at TIA
By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Even as Tampa International Airport struggles to get back to pre-terrorism passenger activity, an old problem is rising again. The airport is running out of parking.
It isn't a problem now, a normally slow time of the year, but it could be a headache around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The problem stems from new hiring by the federal Transportation Security Administration. It hired hundreds of new employees to handle passenger and carry-on baggage screening and will hire hundreds more starting this month to operate the machinery that, by year's end, will scan every piece of checked baggage for explosives.
Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, said the TSA already has 740 employees at the airport in connection with general security and passenger screening. This is well above the 300 contract screeners who worked there before that force was federalized last summer.
On Dec. 31, TIA must start screening all checked bags through 93 explosives detectors that will be set up on the ticketing level of the Landside Terminal.
"It's going to take an additional 400 to 500 TSA people to run the explosive detection systems, and they all need places to park," Miller said.
When all the hiring is done, there will be a net increase of between 840 to 940 employees in need of parking, in addition to the 1,200 regular airport employees who already use airport parking.
The airport built and recently opened a new employee parking lot with 1,800 spaces in the northwest corner of the property. TIA then converted the old employee lot and its 1,500 spaces to a second remote economy lot for passengers to go along with the original remote lot, which has 2,300 spaces.
But the new employee lot has been overwhelmed, and officials will take back at least half of the old employee lot for the overflow. That could leave some holiday travelers in a bind, Miller said. They will have several options. The airport could reopen its emergency holiday lot, basically an empty field with shuttle buses. Passengers also can use off-airport parking, cabs or shuttles.
The problem is likely to be temporary. Within a year, the new explosive screening machinery will be incorporated into the airport baggage system, getting it off the ticketing level. When that happens, the detectors will need many fewer people to operate them, and that should alleviate the parking crunch in time for next year's holidays.
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