The Joe Lapano revolution at TIA takes off

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As Ted Jackovics reports in the Tampa Tribune:

"We do have some severe challenges," said Lopano, who began work in Tampa in January after heading marketing efforts at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "I have read all the stories about how we cannot get international flights. This board mandated we change the way we do business."


Another new feature that should delight the airlines is that from now on, all airport fees will be waived - that includes landing, gate and ticketing fees.


Officials say TIA are targeting more direct international flights, specifically Frankfurt, Bogota, Panama City, San Paulo and Mexico City.


Last month Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joined a host of local business officials on a trip to Panama City to try to recruit Copa airlines to fly directly into Tampa, which right now has considerably less direct international flights than Orlando and Miami.


For years business officials in Tampa and also simply those who have friends and family members who live overseas have complained about the lack of direct international flights into and out of Tampa. When such complaints made their way to former Mayor Pam Iorio, she deflected that attention over to Lou Miller, who she insisted was an outstanding official. She later reversed her opinion after a critical mass of stories in the media surfaced about his leadership at the airport.


Miller said he couldn't recruit airlines if there wasn't the demand. Others say he didn't try hard enough. Earlier this year, after he took over, Lopano fired Trudy Carson, the airport's director of air service development. Carson had been the point person at TIA in the past few years in trying to recruit new air service business to the airport.

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On Monday, the Hillsborough Aviation Authority voted to offer airlines financial incentives to attract domestic and international service from Tampa International Airport, a milestone achievement for the airport, though according to industry consultants, it's simply the price of doing business in the 21st century world of aviation.

The Authority will fund the incentive program from a pool of around $20 million in surplus funds that had been directed towards capital improvements.

To say this is a reversal of how things worked in the past under former TIA head Louis Miller would be an understatement. Miller stressed that unless there was a demand from the flying public, creating incentives for airlines to fly out of TIA didn't make sense. But Lopano, who officially took over at the beginning of the year, obviously thinks differently.

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