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Tampa Bay Business Journal: Tampa International calls for infrastructure investment as it showcases future international airside

By Frances McMorris
May 15, 2018

Tampa International Airport showed off the future site of its 16-gate Airside D, the third phase of its master plan expansion, as part of an event on Tuesday to mark Infrastructure Week.

Also at the event, airport CEO Joe Lopano called for an increase in the passenger facility charge, which is used to fund airport improvement projects that have been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. But the $4.50 PFC, which is tacked onto each airline ticket, hasn’t been raised in nearly two decades, Lopano said. He called for modernizing the PFC to “increase our ability to create great infrastructure.”

Lopano made his remarks at the international arrivals atrium at Airside F, which has the nearby international baggage claim. Some $27 million in funding from the state and PFC collections expanded the international baggage claim facility and also includes Customs and Border Patrol processing, as well as a larger security screening area.

As a result of those expansions, “We can now handle triple simultaneous wide body operations and we currently have new wide bodies from Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Germany," Lopano said. "We have wide bodies to Zurich, Switzerland. We have daily 777s to London British Airways. We have service to Panama. We have service to Cuba.”

The expansion of all those international flights wouldn’t have been possible without the money raised from the PFC and state contributions, Lopano said. “One daily nonstop to Europe has a $156 million impact and generates 1,200 jobs,” he said. “Those flights have had an economic impact on our region that totals hundreds of millions of dollars, a huge return on a $26 million investment.”  

Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International-North America, is an advocate of higher PFCs and said, “We’re going to win this.” 

Burke offered several statistics to back up his position for an increase in the PFCs. U.S. airports contribute $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy, representing 7 percent of the gross domestic product, he said. They also provide 10 million jobs with a total payroll of $360 million.

“We are a major player on the economic scale and we support jobs all over the country,” Burke said. “That’s again why the PFC is so important.”

Burke also pointed out that Florida — with its 19 commercial airports — supports 1.2 million jobs and boosts the nation’s economy by $145 billion. But the Sunshine State has more than $7 billion in infrastructure needs through 2021. If those needs are met, 155,000 jobs would be created statewide, Burke said.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) wants her Congressional colleagues to cap baggage fees that have gone up in recent years. She is seeking an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would cap baggage fees by the same amount of the PFC and tie any increase to increases in the PFC.

But, Castor also noted that Tampa International, the nation’s 28th largest airport, has to link its future growth to improved transit across the region. “We have to invest in transit,” she said. She added that transit has to be a major issue in the upcoming governor's race. 

“Everybody in this room knows how much we’ve fallen behind in infrastructure — not here at this airport and that won’t happen on my watch,” Lopano said.