Friday, February 3, 2012

Convention will affect airspace over Tampa, Florida

By TED JACKOVICS | The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 03, 2012

TAMPA -- Airspace over parts of Tampa could be closed at times during the Republican National Convention and other restrictions on flights could be in effect throughout the Aug. 27-30 event, local officials said Thursday.

Commercial flights at Tampa International and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International airports probably will be unaffected by additional security involving the RNC.

The issues are among those convention planners and aviation officials are grappling with as they prepare to deal with 50,000 visitors, many arriving on airline, charter and general aviation flights, and the activities of 7,500 volunteers, several thousand of whom might be working at Tampa International. The effort is similar to planning for a Super Bowl, though on a larger scale.

"This has a different feel and a different set of demographics," Tampa International Airport vice president of operations Ed Cooley said.

Cooley has headed the aviation subcommittee working in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Host Committee and city, state and federal officials since March 2011. Robert Burr, another veteran Tampa International executive, will take over Cooley's RNC obligations when Cooley retires at the end of the month.

The event is big enough that the military will assign fighter jets to patrol the area at various times.

The impact of the influx of visitors will be most evident on the ground. The Transportation Security Administration will assign additional security officers to keep passenger lines moving smoothly.

Many of the 300 luxury buses that will be chartered to provide trips for delegates between hotels in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the downtown Tampa convention site will be making trips to and from the airport.

He said the airport also must plan to handle more rental cars, taxis and limousines.

"How're we going to get the most out of our time on the international stage?" he said. "We are going to put our brand out there."

The undetermined variable throughout the convention period is the number, whereabouts and impact of protesters.

"Who knows if it's going to be 5,000, 2,000 or 10,000 protesters?" Cooley said. Local planners generally cite a figure of 10,000 protesters, although some try to downplay those numbers.

Tampa officials are working with aviation officials in Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, Polk, Pasco and Hernando counties on convention-related issues.

As a result of temporary flight rule restrictions prohibiting general aviation aircraft within a 10-mile airspace radius of the event during specified periods of time, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is preparing for a large influx in general aviation and corporate traffic, spokeswoman Michele Routh said. That will mean some secondary runways will have to be closed to park the overflow jets and planes.

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