Business still 'bad' for airport businesses, but relief bill may help

Even though there are more travelers every day, look around and you’ll see the pandemic and its effects still evident at Tampa International Airport.

"We lost 96 percent of our business here in Tampa back in April," said Joe Lopano, the airport's CEO. "That’s not something you can model. That’s not something you can practice for."

Lopano was joined by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) at the airport Monday. Castor told reporters that President Biden’s $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan contains $8-billion for airports, with $800-million for airport concession operators like George Tinsley Sr.

Tinsley was forced to furlough dozens of employees at several airports, including TPA. His Tinsley Family Concessions is a partner in the P.F. Chang’s location at Tampa International that has been closed for a year.

"It got really bad and it’s still bad today," he said.

Castor said the American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the Senate over the weekend, will put people back to work.  

"It’s money to keep the contractors and the employees going," said Castor. "It’s money to retain 90 percent of the workforce here through the end of the year." 

Of the $8-billion for the nation’s airports, officials haven’t provided a figure for how much will come to TPA.

Spring break travel could bring ‘normal’ passenger numbers to TPA

The six-week-long spring break travel period, between March and mid-April, is one of the busiest times of the year at the Tampa International Airport.

The number of travelers at TPA is also one measure of the region’s tourism and hospitality industry, which is still suffering the effects of the pandemic.

According to TPA spokesperson Emily Nipps, around 50,000 travelers passed through the airport Sunday. Normally during Spring Break, it’s around 80,000, she said. 

Officials hope passenger numbers continue to trend upward.

"It feels like we’re about to bounce back," said Castor. "But unless we can ramp up vaccinations and provide this emergency bridge funding to keep workers on the job, we could see a real economic turmoil in the months ahead." 

Castor said she expects the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the measure.