22:47 PM

Halfway through 2021, TPA is hitting pre-pandemic passenger numbers

Tampa International Airport’s six-month numbers still fall short of those in record years, but travel growth has been stronger than expected.

After seeing passenger numbers soar to records for years leading up to the last, a precipitous drop in spring of 2020 dashed Tampa International Airports’ projections for another year of growth. Business dropped by more than 90 percent at one point and recovery was slow even in the summer and winter months of 2020.

This year, however, has been another story so far.

Vaccines, a springtime yearning for Tampa Bay area’s beaches and outdoor attractions and a pent-up demand for travel are among some of the driving factors behind the rapid and steady rise in passenger numbers at TPA. Halfway through 2021, the Airport is seeing activity that rivals that of pre-pandemic times, with some days being even busier compared to the same days in 2019.

“Over the past three months, Tampa and the state of Florida have led the recovery in the North American aviation industry and the future looks bright,” said Damian Brooke, TPA's Executive Vice President of Finance and Procurement said at a virtual Buyer-Supplier Town Hall event earlier this month. “Passenger traffic has already recovered to pre-COVID levels and this faster than expected growth has resulted in the Authority significantly outpacing its financial projections for this year.”

For the first six months of 2021, TPA saw 8.2 million departing and arriving passengers, up from the 5.9 million it saw during the same period in 2020, but still below the 11.7 million from January through June of 2019.

Full recovery still has yet to be seen and the path to get there remains uncertain. With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in Florida, as well as many other parts of the world, TPA’s nonstop European flights still have not returned and international travel restrictions are in place for the foreseeable future, largely because of the fast-spreading Delta variant. On Monday, White House officials announced a decision to keep travel restrictions in place, limiting tourism from abroad.

However, with the recent surge in travel, TPA must plan for growth and sustainability accordingly in order to maintain a high level of customer service and capacity. In addition to actively recruiting workers to keep business lines running, the Airport is revisiting construction plans – including a new future airside terminal – that were paused amid the pandemic.

For Fiscal Year 2022, the Airport is projecting to handle approximately 20.6 million passengers, up more than 30 percent over 2021 levels with operating revenues projected to top $280 million dollars.

“We are already looking at ways to accelerate delayed capital projects including the new Terminal D, and have also included some new projects designed to help the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority deal with the faster-than-expected recovery,” Brooke said.

Aside from passenger growth, other signs point to a strong continued recovery such as the addition of several new routes and a new airline, Breeze Airways, launching from TPA. Bond ratings agencies have deemed the Authority to be stable and financially sound even throughout the pandemic, and Tampa Bay area convention centers and hotels are seeing event bookings fill up in the fall and winter months.