By: Catie Schwartzman
2 min read January 2021 — 2020 shaped up to be the worst year for Tampa Bay’s two airports since 1993. The year’s promising start quickly came to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic across airports globally, seeing a 70% drop in international tourist arrivals from January-August in 2020. Even during Christmas and New Year’s, Tampa International Airport saw 60% fewer travelers than last year’s holiday season. These stark drops in travel in 2020 beg the question: what is the future for air travel?
Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport (TPA), foresees 2025 as the peak of air travel’s recovery period he said in his conversation with Invest. “We see a bright next five years but we have a dark tunnel to go through yet,” said Lopano. “There is a big light at the end of it but we’re not there yet.”
2021 is starting off with more residual effects of COVID-19. Tampa International Airport lost one of its connections to London in January due to Norwegian Air’s decision to cut its low-cost, long-haul flights in favor of shorter European flights. The move comes amid Norwegian Air’s attempt to cut debt from lost revenue during the pandemic. While other airlines have resumed international travel through Tampa International Airport, access to international markets is one of the biggest interest markets at TPA for leisure and business travelers.
For international travel to grow again post-pandemic, new regulations will crop up to maintain the safety and health of passengers. International travel health regulations may begin to resemble that of the 1970s, requiring travelers to have appropriate vaccinations, including the coronavirus vaccine, and health clearances. However, this vaccine imposition depends on standardization and strong laws and regulations from individual governments; digital travel passes, like the CommonPass, and vaccination passports would need to be consistent border to border.
Within the airport facilities, touchless travel will become the standard for airports with the help of biometric technology.
“We’re eventually going to go back to something that looks like normal, but there will be some changes that will continue on such as increased cleaning with the latest technology,” said Lopano. “Passengers also expect a more touchless travel experience. A lot of people want doors that open automatically. They want to go to the gate without touching it or seeing anybody.”
Additionally, mandatory in-flight masks, pre-departure and arrival coronavirus screenings, and social distancing, and lastly, lengthy quarantining will be necessary for safety over the next few years; something many travelers are resistant to, which would be essential especially if the vaccine is not widely taken.
The International Air Transport Association does not expect the airline industry to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024, and will require work across the board. Airlines must build up their networks again through reestablishing air routes while maintaining their ongoing viability; along with addressing the most intimidating challenge of the restart: consumer fear of coronavirus infections.
Lopano has a plan for Tampa International Airport’s recovery; however, as it is at the mercy of consumer trepidation as well as the continuing prevalence of COVID-19, the plan will take time.
“The goal is to get the team back together safely, get us all back in one place, with one message,” said Lopano. “The next step will be to design a new Five-Year Plan and a new Strategic Plan knowing what we know now. We are also having our Master Plan updated so that by 2023 we will have that completed. The big reset button is what happened here.”