Aviation shortages hamper the recovery of Tampa International Airport

While Tampa International Airport recovered faster than most US airports from the coronavirus pandemic, the road to recovery has continued to falter in recent months.

Airport officials estimate they won’t reach a “post-recovery period” until next year, airport adviser Pete Ricondo told the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday.

More than 18 million passengers passed through Tampa International last year, according to airport officials, a drop of nearly 20 percent from 2019. The airport closed the gap at pre-pandemic levels this summer, returning to pre-pandemic records over the Thanksgiving holiday, but the streak ended in December, when ommicron surged and airline shortages caused hundreds of delays and cancellations into the new year.

Related: Meet the hawk protecting your flight at Tampa International Airport

Now many airlines have braced themselves for more trouble as winter storms can lead to more cancellations.

They will be put to the test as a storm raging from Texas to New England grounded many flights across the country on Thursday. Dallas was hit hardest with 650 cancellations. Tampa had 40 delays and 77 cancellations as of Thursday afternoon, according to tracking website FlightAware.

“Airline labor shortages are forcing airline scheduling decision-makers to pull capacity out of scheduled flights so they can build resilience into their schedules,” said Christopher Minner, executive vice president of marketing and communications.

Tampa International hosts one of the largest job fairs on February 15, ahead of the airport’s busiest time of year: spring break. Frontier Airlines is looking for approximately 1,000 flight attendants and there are 500 more vacancies for other airlines, retail stores, restaurants, car rental companies and ground handling services.

But airport officials expect to see even more gains this year, especially in international travel.

Ricondo showed the board of the aviation authority on Thursday a chart comparing the performance of Tampa International and US airports. Nearly all US airports aligned with each other during global crises such as the Vietnam War, September 11, the Great Recession and COVID-19. After each dip, the numbers came back higher than before.

Related: What is the future of travel after a pandemic? Tampa International Airport plans to find out.

“The air travel industry and the airline industry have always recovered from each of these events,” Ricondo said.

Ricondo, who is conducting a study for Tampa International’s 20-year master plan, said he expects the airport to return to normal growth within two years. According to projections to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval, nearly 39 million passengers a year could be passing through Tampa by 2042.

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