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Tampa Airport suits travelers

By Timothy AeppelSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 18, 1980

"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."

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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.