"Final boarding for Flight 61 for Denver," the loudspeaker shouts. "All passengers should be on board the aircraft." Yet your bags are still on the scale and the attendant is rushing to validate your ticket. You have just about given up hope of making the flight when the agent looks up brightly and says, "Gate 21, Airside B. You have five minutes, sir."
In most American airports, the jog to Gate 21 could easily reach many hundreds of feet and take more minutes than you have left to get to your plane. But you are fortunate.this is Tampa International Airport (TIA) where ticket counters and gates are only a quick shuttle-car ride apart. In almost no time at all, you're stowing your hand luggage in the overhead rack and buckling up for takeoff.
Careful design has made the $81 million Tampa International Airport a model of convenience and efficiency in air travel. Even though it was built nine years ago, no other US facility has so far duplicated its simple design. The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, completed in 1974, comes closest to TIA with a scattered group of terminal buildings connected by automated shuttle cars, but it lacks a central building to combine all ground services.
But from the moment you enter Tampa International on an Interstate-style highway, the design begins working for you. Entrances are marked with a color-coding system which divides incoming traffic according to the desired services or airlines.
Eastern, for example, is located by following the blue symbols which are frequently posted to keep you on track. If you arrive by car, you're led to a blue-coded parking area on one of the three parking levels within the terminal building itself. Blue-colored elevators zip the traveler to the ticketing level , where blue ticket counters are only a few steps away. The same type of "yellow brick road" leads to red services while green symbols point the way to remote parking on the fringes of the airport.
The layout of the airport resembles a spoked wheel, with a central terminal building for all "Landside" services, such as parking, ticketing, baggage claim, and transportation. Four outlaying buildings called "Airsides" handle emplaning , deplaning, refueling, and servicing of aircraft.
Landside and Airside services are connected by electric shuttle cars which reduce passenger walking distance from car seat to plane seat to a maximum of 700 feet. This is no small accomplishment in a country where airport hikes can reach distances up to 1,735 feet (Chicago O'Hare) and 1,485 feet (New York LaGuardia).
The high-technology shuttle cars look like something from Disney World's Tomorrowland as they whisk passengers back and forth on elevated concrete tracks. They are driven by a silent computer which opens and closes doors, regulates speed, and controls the temparature.
Beginning as a cow pasture with a wind sock in 1927, Tampa followed the nationwide trend toward "airport sprawl," building a single-level terminal with a reputation for long walks to gates along corridors only partially protected from the weather.
By 1962, annual passenger traffic had surpassed a million and Tampa's commercial airlines had grown from four to 10. Soon the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority initiated planning for the new terminal which was completed in April 1971.
Leigh Fisher Associated Inc. (planning consultants) and J.E. Greiner Company (consulting engineers) first conducted a sixmonth survery of airports, indexing strenghts and weaknesses.
Their findings led to the "Airside/Landside Concept" of a cenral hub with periphery buildings. The design concept was executed by Reynolds, Smith, & Hills, Architects. The cool concrete structures near Tampa Bay represent the first stage of a master plan projected until the year 2000.
The authority's executive director, George J. Bean, believes the present structures meet the three primary objectives of the original design: financial feasibility passenger comfort, and enhancement of the community image.
"Ours is one of the few airports in the country to cut landing fees to commercial airlines for the last three consecutive years in a raw," says Mr. Bean. This decrease from 27 to 17 cents per 1,000 pounds of aircraft reflects the profitable operation of the airport in recent years.
The agreement between the authority and passenger airlines serving Tampa stipulates that profits in excess of the annual amount needed to pay back revenue bonds be used to decrease landing fees. Similarity, if the airport starts logging red ink, the airlines are expected to cover the payments through increased landing fees.
Paul T. MacAlester, authority information director, attributes the airport's economical operation to "a well-integrated system approach which connects each airport service efficiently, the durable materials used in construction, and the design's overall simplicity."
The comfort of the new facility seems undisputed. Passengers, not Boeing 747 s or Lockheed TriStars, were the first consideration in interior and exterior design. The main six-story terminal building, with structural parking for 1,761 cars, includes sculpture and decor which creates a "Florida look."
Interior designers Joseph A. Maxwell & Associates utilized indirect lighting and 6.4 acres of carpeting to create a warm hospitable atmosphere. Landscape architects Stresau, Smith, & Steward filled interior spaces with tropical plants.
Airport officials boast that official delegations from 70 foreign countries have come to gaze on the high technology and wall-to-wall carpeting, and the Tampa Chamber of Commerce says the airport is second only to nearby Busch Gardens as a sight-seeing attraction.
"There is a direct relation between having a first-class airport facility and the construction and development of Tampa," says Bob Morrison, assistant to Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez. This is particularly true for the undeveloped areas that border the airport.
Roy Bertke, manager of communication for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, calls TIA "a showcase that borders on the Disneyesque." Mr. Bertke believes the modern airport facility at least partially influenced his company's decision to expand the Tampa office into a regional headquarters in 1975.
"The insurance business requires a good local airport to move people and to move premiums. Tampa International has a very efficient regional mail operation ," says Mr. Bertke.
Besides the business interests which the airport attracts, at least one major nonprofit organization has positioned itself near the runways. International Shriners is currently building a new headquarters within sight of the Tampa control tower, citing the airport and the Florida climate as major factors in its departure from Chicago.
Future development at the airport will be closely tied to demand. The master plan allows for passenger volumes up to 20 to 25 million passengers a year. Volume is expected to top 9 million during the early part of 1980."
The only expansion project scheduled for the next decade is additional structural parking levels above the Landside terminal. The structure was designed for as many as three more such levels.
Present Airside facilities represent about two-thirds of the completed complex with four of six possible locations in use. The two additional Airside buildings could increase passenger capacity by 50 percent.
"I don't believe anybody is making longrange predictions today," says Mr. MacAlester. "It was easy to make all sorts of proposals in the 1960s, but today there are too many uncertainties."