Airports in Florida plan closures as Ian approaches
By Christine Hauser
As Hurricane Ian headed toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, airports announced plans to shut down before the worst of the wind and rain arrived.
Officials at Tampa International Airport, where about 140 incoming and outgoing flights were canceled as of Tuesday morning, said the airport’s last departure would be at 5 p.m. By then, most of the airport’s daily operations will be finished.
The airport will be fully closed starting Wednesday, and it is not clear when it will reopen, according to John Tiliacos, the executive vice president of airport operations. At a news briefing Tuesday morning, he said the closure would affect 450 flights a day.
The airport is close to Tampa Bay, so storm surge and flooding are a top concern, he said.
“We are talking potentially a lot of water that could be on our airport,” Tiliacos said. He added, “To my knowledge, we have never had a storm of this magnitude that’s impacted us.”
A team of about 120 employees have volunteered to ride out the storm at the airport, he said. Their goal is to reopen it as quickly as possible after the storm, once workers have assessed its effects.
Passengers who find themselves stranded at the airport will be taken to a shelter, Tiliacos said.
Joseph W. Lopano, CEO of the public authority that manages the Tampa airport, said that airlines were already canceling flights and moving aircraft to safer places. He said the economic impact of closing the airport would be “in the millions.” He added, “Unfortunately Ian is not giving us a choice.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said the outer bands of the hurricane could slow flights at the Orlando International Airport and the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The Orlando airport said Tuesday that it would halt commercial flights Wednesday, with its final flight departing at 10:30 a.m., but it would remain open for emergency aid and relief flights if necessary. It could take up to three days to return to normal schedules, the airport said.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport said there were delays and cancellations because of the storm but the airport was still operating.
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport said Monday that its last flight was scheduled to depart at 11:22 a.m. Tuesday, and that the terminal building would close at 1 p.m. to comply with a mandatory evacuation order in Pinellas County.
Miami International Airport said Tuesday that it remained open and that the Federal Aviation Administration and individual airlines would determine whether to operate flights.