Demand low at TIA for flights overseas

A consultant says that is the reason behind a shortage of international, nonstop routes from the airport.

Published March 3, 2006

TAMPA - One of the few complaints about Tampa International Airport over the years has been its lack of nonstop flights to international destinations. Now a consultant has determined why: There's not much demand.

Using the same data airlines use to decide which markets to serve, Sabre Airline Solutions of Atlanta determined there isn't enough international traffic coming out of TIA's 10-county service area to support new major overseas service.

"Simply put, if the demand for additional international service existed in this area, the airlines would have recognized it and filled the demand," Brad DiFiore, a senior management consultant with Sabre, told the airport board Thursday.

London, the largest international destination in the world, is served directly from Tampa by British Airways five days a week.

"Yet BA can't sustain daily service from here, even to London," said Trudy Carson, TIA's deputy director for air service development.

The $35,000 study was commissioned by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority to determine how many passengers who make airline reservations within TIA's service area use TIA, and how many leak out of the region to other major airports. On that front, the news was good.

Of the passengers making reservations from within the service area - Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Polk, Hardee, Manatee, DeSoto and Sarasota counties - nearly 84 percent started at TIA. The rest left from Orlando, Sarasota-Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Fort Myers.

DiFiore said he saw no reason to expect that the availability of international service from TIA would improve in the near future.

One problem is that airline fares in Florida are the lowest in the nation and have been for some time. With many carriers in financial trouble and the cost of fuel remaining high, they are scaling back Florida service instead of adding flights.

"Fares to Florida are so low they won't support the fuel costs," DiFiore said. "JetBlue (and Southwest Airlines) just announced fare increases to cover fuel costs."

Cuts in service from TIA by Delta Air Lines and Song this year will amount to a 19 percent reduction in departures, comparing June 2005 to June 2006, and seats will be down 24 percent, said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Miller told his board he was concerned that service would remain sufficient to allow international passengers leaving from Tampa to make their connections in Atlanta.

"We're going to have to sit down with those folks soon and see where we are," he said.