Tampa International Airport CEO talks health safety efforts amid COVID-19 pandemic
Empty United Airlines ticket machines are shown at the Tampa International Airport in April. United United Airlines will send layoff warnings to 36,000 employees - nearly half its U.S. staff - in the clearest signal yet of how deeply the virus outbreak is hurting the airline industry. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

United Airlines machines at Tampa Airport
The airport's efforts have garnered international media attention.

Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano talked Tuesday about the strategies he has used to protect travelers and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While nearly all industries have suffered under the pandemic and the government’s reactionary response, few have dealt with more challenges than the aviation sector.

Speaking at the Florida Chamber Foundation‘s Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit, the 30-year airport veteran said he searched for ways to convert the situation into an opportunity for reinvention.

“Had you asked me 10, five, even two years ago, if we’d be masking up to get on a plane and telling people to keep their distance … I would have said not in your wildest dreams,” Lopano told viewers.

Lopano, who sat on Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ Reopen Florida Task Force as the only airport CEO, employed what he called the “TPA Ready” program.

The program incorporated several strategies, many of which he learned from theme parks and hotels. In April, the airport was among the first in the nation to implement a mask mandate and install acrylic barriers, blocked off seating, social distancing signs and modern, touchless technology.

What’s more, the airport in October became the first to offer two types of COVID-19 tests for arriving and departing passengers.

The effort garnered international media interest. He estimated the media coverage reached more than 200 million people worldwide for a value of over $15 million.

“Our efforts became a model for other airports trying to figure out how to restore confidence in travel,” Lopano added.

Notably, Lopano warned that airports are far from out of the woods.

While traveler confidence has increased since the pandemic’s onset, he said, issues such as COVID-19 case numbers, travel restrictions, and customer demand may raise future concerns.

He estimated it may take three to four years for travel at Tampa International Airport to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Today’s traveler wants and expects a five-star airport experience that prioritizes their health and comfort,” Lopano said.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


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