Employee Spotlight: Scott Loper, Real Estate Project Manager
The man known as “Mr. Airport” for his vast knowledge of Tampa International Airport recently celebrated 35 years working at TPA.
There are not many people who know more about Tampa International Airport than Scott Loper. In fact, longtime TPA operations and maintenance employees often call him “Mr. Airport” for his vast institutional knowledge. He’s had a front row seat to nearly every major event, emergency, and expansion project spanning parts of five different decades. Now, after more than 30 years of working the runways, Loper enjoys his role in TPA’s Real Estate Department, ensuring individual airlines and other Airport tenants have everything they need to run a safe and successful operation at TPA.
Loper got his start at Tampa International way back in 1988, but says landing a job at America’s Favorite Airport was not easy. After growing up a military brat and spending part of his childhood living near Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, Loper and his older brother both developed an early interest in aviation.
“Our football practices were right next to a helicopter field," Loper said. “Looking up and seeing F-4 Phantoms flying low overhead was awe-inspiring for me.”
By high school, his family had packed up and moved to Florida, where his father worked at the former Patrick Air Force Base. The nearby Florida Institute of Technology had a well-known flight school, and soon Loper was attending FIT to study aviation. He would go on to graduate with a commercial instrument multi-engine rating, and B.S. Degree in Air Commerce and Flight Technology. He briefly considered becoming a flight instructor before changing his mind.
“I had so many scares as a student pilot, by that point, I had no wish to become a flight instructor," he said.
Instead, he entered a master's program at FIT where he told one of his instructors he was aiming to get a job working at Tampa International Airport.
“The instructor said, ‘Nobody gets a job at Tampa because nobody leaves Tampa,’" said Loper. “I told myself, ‘Well, I’m going to try anyway.’”
Back in those days, operations employees were required to have at least three years of experience working at a commercial airport before being considered for a job. But in 1988, the Airport created the Airport Operations Specialist Program, for the first time allowing entry-level employees to get their foot in the door. Loper applied and got the job.
His first two-and-a-half years were a crash course in how an airport runs. Back then, TPA had a much smaller staff and Loper spent six months working by himself as the only Airport Operations Specialist on the overnight shift.
He remembers back to his first year on the job when snow fell on the runway in 1989.
“Much of Tampa experienced a brownout that night and I was sent out to the runway to meet the electrical superintendent," he said. "We looked up and there were flurries coming down."
He would eventually be promoted to Airport Operations Manager and spent the next decade rotating through various shifts. He says one of his craziest memories was the day operations received an Alert 2 after a TWA MD-80 blew an engine on takeoff.
“I raced out to the runway and immediately spotted a fire. I was like, ‘Woah!’ and thought for sure the plane had gone down.”
As it turned out, Loper says it was hot engine fragments from the explosion that caused the fire. He says the aircraft was able to come around for a safe landing. “I remember we spent the next 3 to 4 hours picking up engine parts off the runway.”
Years later, in August of 1992, Loper says he helped coordinate the visit of a British Airways Concorde and escorted Airport photographer David Lawrence out to the runway to photograph the historic visit. “Being right down next to the runway as it did a low approach was incredible.”
In 2005, Loper was promoted to Senior Manager of Operations, with management oversight of the Duty Airport Operations Managers and Airfield Operations. For 12 years, he helped coordinate construction projects and special events, including 2 Super Bowls, TPA’s first-ever 5K on the Runway, and the massive International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) held in 2014.
In 2017, Loper took a newly created position of Senior Manager of Safety Compliance, working closely with the airlines, construction crews and even Air Traffic Control before finally transferring to the Airport’s Real Estate team in 2019. Over the years, he says he’s had the privilege to work with many amazing people, including his wife Debby, whom he met at the Airport when she was secretary for Northwest Airlines out at the old Airside D.
“We just celebrated 30 years together. She would always say, ‘Marry me and you’ll fly for free,’” Loper said with a laugh. “The only free flight I got was the flight to Vegas to get married, and then she left Northwest!”
Today, Loper continues using his decades of Airport experience to help onboard new and existing airlines as they begin new service at TPA. He helped coordinate the recent shuffle of several airlines switching from the red to the blue side of the airport to make room for several new international carriers. Over the next several years, he is excited about the opportunity to be involved in the planning and design for the new 16-gate Airside D, which will serve as TPA’s international and domestic terminal beginning in 2028.
“Airside D is going to be amazing," Loper said. “Being a part of projects like that certainly keeps my job exciting.”
It also keeps him thankful.
"I’m immensely grateful to work at an airport that so many people love and respect. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the instructor who said I’d never get the job. I applied anyway, and I’m so glad I did.”