Ask the CEO: 10 COVID-19 Questions with Joe Lopano
While no one in the aviation industry has been spared the wide-ranging impact of coronavirus, Tampa International Airport has spent years preparing and testing resiliency plans to weather just such a storm. We recently sat down with TPA CEO Joe Lopano to learn more about how the Airport is responding to this unprecedented pandemic and what the plans are for moving forward.
Question: Hi, Joe. Tampa International Airport has been fortunate enough to enjoy about a decade of steady success – new flights, increased passengers and rapid expansion. This pandemic is a sudden departure type of challenge. How’s the Airport handling this change?
First and foremost, we are handling it by working to ensure the health and safety of all our employees and guests. No matter what is going on in the world, people come first. I am incredibly grateful to all of TPA’s essential employees, including first-responders and front-line workers who are keeping the Airport running.
As an Airport, we’ve always celebrated the good times while preparing for future challenges. Just as we hosted gate parties for new flights and cut ribbons for new facilities, we also prepared for the unknown by modeling financial downturns and practicing strong financial stewardship to protect one of Tampa Bay’s most important assets.
This has put us in a position to weather this storm and spring back when the threat of COVID-19 has passed. We look forward to helping our region recover and continue to make incredible gains.
What’s it like being the CEO of Tampa International Airport right now?
It’s certainly different, but my priorities really haven’t changed. I wake up and go to sleep every day thinking about my team and what I can do to help them during this period and beyond. We are very focused on keeping our team healthy, flattening the curve, to put ourselves in the best possible position moving forward.
It certainly is an interesting time to be CEO, but it’s also helped me be even more grateful for those around me. The team we’ve assembled at TPA is simply awe-inspiring and has met all of these challenges head-on without losing a beat.
For example, right now we’re spending many hours working through various financial models, evaluating timelines for future projects and planning how to overcome the impact to our revenue caused by the pandemic. I wouldn’t describe it as “fun” work, but figuring out how to responsibly re-group on the fly is definitely critical, and it’s an experience that will serve us well for many years to come. I’m fortunate to work with a team that has the talent, vision and dedication to support the Airport in any scenario.
It has been about a month and a half – although it may feel like a lot longer – since the first Florida case. What precautionary steps has the airport taken to limit the spread of coronavirus?
We’ve taken extensive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our travelers and employees, and we have fully implemented our Pandemic Business Continuity Plan. From Day 1, we enhanced the cleaning of all the high-touch areas, including escalator handrails, elevator buttons, shared surfaces and more. We’ve also added numerous hand sanitizing stations and signage on how to limit the spread of coronavirus throughout the terminal.
What does a “Safer at Home” order mean for TPA?
Florida’s current “Safer at Home” order allows for air travel and Tampa International Airport is open. However, to minimize the spread of COVID-19, travel should be reserved for essential purposes – like someone who needs to get to a critical doctor’s appointment in another state. If you do need to fly, you should be practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and following all other CDC guidelines.
Is the Airport considering shutting down?
No. The decision to close an airport ultimately rests with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA continues to expect airports to operate safely and remain open, especially because they play an essential role in transporting cargo, medical and emergency equipment and personnel.
By now, most people are aware that airlines have significantly pulled back flights across the globe in response to COVID-19. How has air service been impacted here at Tampa International Airport?
This is a moving target as airlines across the globe continue to react. As of March, we’ve seen our passenger numbers drop more than 90 percent compared to the same time the previous year.
Nobody could have predicted this rapid and sudden of a drop in passenger travel, but TPA does regularly prepare for similar scenarios. What has TPA done to build its resiliency for this type of event?
This is one of the most impactful events – if not the most impactful – in my nearly four decades in the aviation industry. But we have team members dedicated to emergency management who plan, develop and test various different contingency plans on an ongoing basis, including pandemics. We already had this system in place and as a result, we were able to quickly implement our plan to put us in the best possible position to deal with COVID-19.
How will the airport look once this pandemic comes to an end?
We will be here and ready to support travel in and out of the region. It’s hard to say when the pandemic will end, but we do expect air service to build up gradually over time. Given our healthy mix of leisure and business travel, we think we’re in a relatively good position to recover quickly.
You’ve talked in the past about hitting the ground running when this is over. Why is that so important for the community?
We are an economic engine for the Tampa Bay region, supporting more than 100,000 jobs and driving billions of dollars annually in economic impact. The faster we get back to full speed, the quicker Tampa Bay recovers.
Our team is taking steps right now to ensure that TPA is ready to ramp up and serve the community as people gradually start flying again.. Right now, every department from Operations to Marketing is preparing plans for how to smartly and safely welcome back passengers.
What else would you like to say about this unprecedented time?
This is a tough period, to be sure, but it too will pass. I have no doubt we will get through it and that’s because of the outstanding team we have assembled here at the Airport. From our Operations personnel to our Traffic Specialists and Guest Services Representatives, we have an extremely dedicated and resilient team. I’m eternally grateful for their hard work.