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TIA posts record-breaking month in March
By JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000
TAMPA -- Tampa International Airport, which has been growing at a furious pace for two years, posted its all-time busiest month in March, when nearly 810,000 people boarded commercial flights.
What surprised airport officials the most about the figures released Thursday to the board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority was that use rose by 9.3 percent -- nearly 70,000 passengers -- over the previous March, when the NCAA Final Four had come to Tampa Bay.
"I was really shocked because we had done so well with the Final Four," said Louis Miller, executive director of the authority. "If we had showed growth this past March of 2 to 3 percent over a year earlier, I would have considered that big growth. But 9.3 percent? Who could have predicted that?"
That jump more than doubled the national average of 4.1 percent and put the airport on track to beat the past fiscal year's passenger total of nearly 7.5-million.
Miller attributed the growth to the opening of the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel, which increased convention business, to the continued strength of the national economy, the continuing growth of Tampa Bay and a record tourist season.
"Carole Ketterhagen told me the other day that Pinellas County tourism set a record in March," Miller said.
Ketterhagen, executive director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the news was even better than that.
"This whole fiscal year, October through March, we're up significantly," Ketterhagen said.
"We won't see the actual figures for March until next week, but according to the tax report, the month will be even better than the March of the Final Four when hotel, motel and condo occupancy was 91.8 percent.
"This has been the strongest fall-winter season I've seen since I've been here."
What the growth means for the airport, Miller said, is that projects in the new 20-year master plan will have to be telescoped, and if growth continues, a second terminal complex might be just 10 years down the road instead of 20.
"If this keeps up, the master plan will probably only be good for the next decade," Miller said. "It validates our desperate need for Airside E and getting the car rental counters out of the baggage claim areas so we can expand our baggage-handling capacity.
"We were hoping we wouldn't have to deal with that for the next six or seven years, but it looks like we're going to have to do it sometime in the next two."
Airside E, on the west side of the airport complex, is being torn down and rebuilt for newer generations of aircraft. It has been closed for years. Its reconstruction will add 14 gates to the airport's capacity. Completion is scheduled for December 2001.
When a second terminal complex is built, it will virtually mirror the existing one directly to the north on land already owned by the airport. In anticipation, TIA is moving its cargo operations and other support functions onto land newly acquired in Drew Park.
The last time TIA showed a decrease in passengers was in March 1998, when counts dropped by 3.1 percent. The numbers have been in the positive column ever since.
The growth in passengers makes TIA, which is the country's 29th largest airport, the fifth fastest growing. The only facilities growing faster are Washington-Dulles, Baltimore-Washington, Minneapolis and Las Vegas, all of which are hubs for at least one airline.
In other business Thursday, the authority board recognized Justiniano Guttierez, a janitorial worker who found a purse containing about $20,000 in cash and turned it in. An elderly passenger claimed the property and tipped Guttierez $3, Miller said. The board gave him $100 and a $40 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse.
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