British Airways, International flights and Tampa International
It is good to see that the recently expanded British Airways service to London Gatwick from TIA is doing well. That is very encouraging and, it should be noted, came with an agreement by the airport to lower fees and help marketing and happened a few months after the previous director left TIA. (see here and here) – not to mention expanded service to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Tampasphere is well aware that all this raises a question about the previous efforts to bring international service to TIA – which is critical to keeping the Tampa Bay area competitive. While what happened in the past is in the past and we should look forward, it is also true that reviewing previous efforts is helpful looking forward, as TIA works to expand international flights. So a few of observations:
It is commonly said that flights come to an airport based on demand. That is certainly true, but there are various questions about how demand is defined and, like most people and companies, airlines also go where they feel wanted. Moreover, demand can be built.
There is the question of incentives (let’s use this definition: “Incentives take a variety of forms: advertising to promote new flights, waivers of airport fees, guarantees that a certain number of seats will be sold.”), which the previous director publicly opposed (see here and here), but, as seen in the British Airways expansion of service, can be helpful. Reports going back years indicate that the previous director wanted to expand British airways service but, as noted above, publicly opposed any sort of incentive. Almost immediately after he left, the airport gave relatively meager incentives and got the expanded London service. (Strangely, that director actually gave these kind of incentives for the inexplicable and ill-fated Cancun service [what, it suddenly got hard to find beach resorts in Florida? Why not a hub at Mexico City?]) Moreover, with the apparent success (obviously, it is early in the service and things could change, but the numbers are encouraging) of the expanded London service, there is support for the argument that incentives up front helps bring service that unlocks demand. Tampasphere does not know how the British Airways discussions went, but, the point is that concessions/incentives are a critical part of the toolkit in attracting new service (international and domestic – such as San Francisco) that, if targeted intelligently, can unlock pent up demand and help the airport serve its proper role as a major catalyst for the Bay area’s economy.
As for if there is demand. That seems to turn on how you look at it and when. For instance, at one point, it seems there was definitely sufficient demand for a flight to Frankfurt. Then, there was not. Tampasphere is not sure what happened and is not going to speculate – there are a number of possibilities. The important thing is the TIA has the proper numbers now – including O&D and transfer passengers (like Orlando considers) and that the proper questions are asked and answered honestly.
Finally, Tampasphere applauds the new director for going to Panama and for seeking other service to important locations (see here and here). This is the type of aggressive approach that the Bay Area needs at the airport, at the port, and in development of the area generally.