Tampa airport officials, Kathy Castor tout air travel-saving coronavirus relief

Passenger jet airliner plane arriving or departing Tampa International Airport in Florida at sunset or sunrise
Castor is on her way to vote in favor of the latest $1.9T relief package.

Federal stimulus funding last year stopped Tampa International Airport from laying off staff even when air traffic declined 96%. On Monday, airport officials stood alongside U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to offer their support to another round of relief.

The airport officials and area press joined Castor at the airport to send her off to vote for the American Rescue Plan, which just passed in the Senate and heads back to the House for final approval.

“The effects of this pandemic have been devastating,” said Joe Lopano, CEO for Tampa International Airport.

He reminded that last year, the pandemic brought on an instant 96% drop in traffic. “That’s something you can’t model or plan for,” he said. But passage of relief packages out of Congress aided the airport at the time.

The $1.9-trillion package just passed out of the Senate this weekend includes $15 billion for airlines, $8 billion for airports and $800 million for airport concessionaires.

Castor said leaders in Washington were very aware of the different challenges facing the air travel industry all-around because of the threat from travel in spreading the virus, and the essential nature of keeping airlines working. The Tampa Democrat is a frequent traveler through the airport’s gates and had to travel to and from Washington frequently in the last year as relief deals came together.

She also noted additional relief would come into the airport through other portions of the relief bill, including a significant increase to a restaurant revitalization fund.

“These are grants, not loans, and they prioritize minority-owned and veteran-owned business,” Castor said.

Repeatedly referring to Tampa’s airport as the best in the world, she praised executives for making room for local and minority-owned vendors in the hubs and terminals.

“When you fly into Tampa, you arrive in Tampa,” she said.

George Tinsley, owner of P.F. Chang’s, was also on hand for the event and praised the relief package awaiting a House vote.

“We were obviously adversely affected in our restaurants across the nation,” he said. The restaurant had to furlough many employees who are only coming back to work now. At the Tampa airport, he expects a location to fully open later this month.

Castor also said the federal relief takes into account the particular challenges for airline workforces and put in protections for benefits to pilots and flight attendants even when they are grounded.

Lopano said the pandemic dramatically changed the flight industry and that many of the changes will undoubtedly be long-term, regardless of how the rest of the economy recovers. But he expressed confidence in the direction of the industry.

“We have brighter days ahead,” he said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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