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"Tampa airport chief gets high marks"
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Tampa airport chief gets high marks
By TED JACKOVICS
The Tampa (FL) Tribune
TAMPA -- Joe Lopano was on vacation in the final days of his first year as
Tampa International Airport chief executive, but he showed up at his office
"I wanted to review some financial presentations in the morning and spend
some time walking through the terminals," Lopano said two days before New
Year's. "Then our family will spend the weekend watching football, and if
it's warm enough, we will get on the water to kayak."
Lopano, 57, has lived up to the energetic reputation he brought to Tampa
from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where he oversaw the
marketing, customer service and real estate departments.
"High motor guy - always on the go," Hillsborough County Aviation Authority
board member Joe Diaco wrote in Lopano's performance review.
The five board members rated Lopano a combined average of 4.8 on a 5-point
scale in their fiscal-year ending reviews on Sept. 30.
"Exceeds expectations," said board member Steve Burton, managing partner of
Broad and Cassel's Tampa law office. "He should be given a pay increase per
his contract based on superior job performance."
That sparked one of the few public hiccups in Lopano's first year in Tampa.
When the board proposed a $50,000 pay raise atop Lopano's annual $305,000
pay package, Lopano rejected it, avoiding a public relations brouhaha during
the poor economy. The board deferred consideration of pay issues until 2012.
Lopano also restructured top management - a dicey task for any new leader -
with little apparent turbulence.
"Basically, we laid the framework and foundation for success in 2011,
whether it was creating an air-service incentive program or investing in our
airlines (lowering airport user fees), or pumping $30 million into projects
to improve our terminal facilities," Lopano said.
Lopano's first major proposal of 2012 is a $27.6 million upgrade to the
international airside terminal.
"This year, it's all about teamwork, collaborating not only within our ranks
but continuing to do so within the community," he said.
Lopano's title as "chief executive" rather than "airport director" reflects
the aviation authority's mission statement to be a major driver in the Tampa
Bay region's economic growth.
Downtown business interests, including the Greater Tampa Chamber of
Commerce, have intensified their economic development focus. Bob Rohrlack,
chamber president and chief executive, is a close associate of Burton, the
aviation authority chairman.
"We are continuing the work to support the airport and Port of Tampa,"
Rohrlack said. "We are focused on supporting the flights to Cuba and the
upcoming flights to Zurich, Switzerland, that start in May."
A new airport initiative is a five-year, $2 million marketing and branding
campaign by Paradise Advertising of St. Petersburg to help bring in more
flights and markets, the airport's first such marketing agency in seven
"Lopano is doing a great job," Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe
said. "He's charging ahead to make the airport a key driver for business and
economic development in Florida."
But to keep the high praise coming, performance must match promise. Pressure
will mount to recruit direct flights to Central and South America, long a
goal for business travelers and residents who must trek to Orlando or Miami
for that service.
Sharpe would like to see new direct flights to the West Coast, along with
new aircraft maintenance and repair facilities to create jobs in Tampa. But
recruitment sometimes lies beyond what local interests can control.
For example, Tampa, in part, owes its Zurich flight to a change in Edelweiss
Air's original plans to fly a new Airbus 330 between Switzerland and Japan.
Following Japan's nuclear plant disaster, Edelweiss shifted the airliner to
Orlando. Then Tampa stepped in with Lopano's incentive package, which will
provide Edelweiss $700,000 worth of subsidies.
"We can't tell airlines where to put their new airplane, but we need to
control the message," Lopano said.
"That's how it worked with Edelweiss. They did not know we had 5 million
population in our catchment area before we told them. We were on their radar
Lopano points out that while the U.S. economy remains uncertain, economies
in nations such as Chile and Brazil have been growing.
"In a sense, it's a good time to be meeting airlines that have orders for
new airliners in the next few years," he said.
"Our job is to create the message that Tampa flights are profitable and
sustainable, that at the end of the day, we are the business capital of West
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