Holiday season is good to airport
By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Helped by two quirks of the calendar, December 2002 will probably set records for revenue at Tampa International Airport -- a far cry from the record for angst set a year earlier.
"The holidays were just extraordinary," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "With both Christmas and New Year falling on Wednesdays, we get a third weekend out of it, a bonus. We'll be going strong right through Sunday."
December also was helped because the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend fell on Dec. 1, although this will be partly offset because the bonus third weekend of the Christmas season will fall in January.
Parking revenue, which Miller called "one of the best barometers we have," was up nearly 14 percent over December 2001.
"It's better than we've had in a long time," he said. "It may be the best ever for December. I think it is. It will be reflected in everything else. When people are here, they spend money. When they spend money, we make money."
Good news for the airport is good news for passengers, who are virtually assured now that long-planned improvements in airport facilities and services can be funded on time.
TIA's December bump climaxes a year of dramatic change.
Just 12 months earlier, the authority board was reeling from the terrorist attacks. It had lowered its projected annual revenue from $129-million to $114-million.
Airlines slashed flights.
US Airways, once TIA's largest carrier, shut down its low-fare subsidiary, Metro Jet, cut other service and later declared bankruptcy. Midway Airlines disappeared. United Airlines declared bankruptcy. Most other airlines retrenched.
Yet final revenue figures for the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, exceeded $123-million.
This month TIA will have 199 daily departures, six more than it had in January of 2000, well before the terrorist attacks, and only nine short of its peak of 208 departures in January 2001.
The 3.1 percent overall advance is being led by the low-fare carriers, principally -- Southwest, AirTran, Delta Express, JetBlue and Spirit -- where service to and from TIA will be nearly 26 percent higher this month than last January.
"What we have determined is that US Airways' bankruptcy has had no significant impact on us at all," Miller said. "Every flight they've cut back, somebody else has stepped in. As we figure it, US Airways could leave here completely and we wouldn't feel it because somebody would pick up after them, probably the low-fare carriers, and that's better for consumers."
US Airways has, for example, dropped Boston completely as a destination from TIA, but Delta Express picked it up. US Airways also dropped service from TIA to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Those routes were taken over by AirTran, United and American, respectively.
It is a financial picture that should help the authority get a favorable interest rate when it goes into the market later this year with more than $250-million in bonds to finance major capital projects, including the reconstruction of Airside C and a new baggage-handling system that will incorporate explosive detection devices.
Furthermore, revenue in the current fiscal year is projected at more than $134-million, a $5-million increase above the preterrorism estimates last year.
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