Tampa International Airport officials announced Thursday they have recruited a non-stop flight between Tampa and Zurich, Switzerland, using $700,000 in incentives to help attract service.
Edelweiss Air will provide the first international flight airport chief executive Joe Lopano has arranged since being hired in January with a mandate to increase international traffic.
"Those who said we cannot grow international flights are wrong," said Lopano, who created an air service incentive program in June. "Those days of driving up I-4 (to Orlando's airport) are over."
Edelweiss Air, which Swiss International Airlines took over in 2008 and is a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will offer Tuesday and Friday flights starting May 25. It will fly once weekly during the 2012-2013 winter season.
Edelweiss will use an Airbus A330 aircraft with 332 seats – 296 economy and 36 business class. An Edelweiss official said prices would depend on demand.
Tampa International will provide $500,000 in incentives over two years, including $150,000 in cash. The rest will be in other forms, such as waivers for landing, ticket counter and other fees.
The Pinellas visitors bureau will contribute $70,000 worth of cooperative marketing programs for each of two years; the Hillsborough visitors bureau will kick in $30,000 for the same time period.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. played roles in recruiting the air service, with representatives traveling overseas to finalize the deal that began to take shape in January.
Edelweiss expects the flights to draw passengers to and from various destinations in Europe and beyond, connecting in Zurich with the Tampa flight. Swiss Air flies to 48 European destinations from Zurich.
"We wanted a destination in Florida that can be sustained (by passenger demand), a destination that is still growing and one that has business and tourist segments," said Edelweiss Air business development manager Michael Trestl. "It is important we originate passengers on both sides of the Atlantic."
Edelweiss operated once-weekly flights between Orlando International Airport and Zurich between July 2 and Sept. 10. Orlando's airport does not provide direct financial incentives, although many U.S. airports do in order to compete for flights.
Trestl said Orlando's ridership was "generally satisfactory" and the airport was a competitor with Tampa for continued flights serving Central Florida.
In addition to passenger service, local officials said the service will benefit business and economic development.
Based on findings from a recent consultant's report for Tampa International, officials said the Switzerland flights will create 265 new jobs regionally and create $31.6 million in economic impact.
"Those traveling for tourism will affect restaurants, hotels, car rentals, the museums," said Bob Rohrlack, Tampa Chamber president and chief executive. "Direct flights and connections make it easier to get into our market and get more business exposure."
Tampa International this year gained additional flights to Puerto Rico and London and began charter service to Havana this month in initiatives begun under previous airport administrations.