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Lufthansa to offer Tampa flights to Frankfurt in 2015

— Kurzmeldung! (News flash!) Tampa travelers, beginning in September, can fly directly from here to Frankfurt, Germany with the option to connect to almost anywhere in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and several places in Africa.

Airport and area business officials donned German Tyrolean hats to clink beer steins Thursday at Tampa International Airport, celebrating Lufthansa German Airlines’ new non-stop flights to one of the busiest hubs in the world.

Lufthansa will provide service from Tampa International Airport beginning Sept. 25, a deal in the works for the better part of a decade. The airline will fly four times a week in winter and five times a week in summer, carrying not only tourists, but business passengers and cargo, which could mean more export and import opportunities for both German and American companies.

Lufthansa District Sales Manager Marius Carstensen said he expects the airline to transport some 60,000 passengers a year to Tampa.

The German airline, which airport officials say is one of the most financially successful in the world, is just the latest in a growing number of companies offering international flights from Tampa International Airport. The airport, which will begin a $1 billion upgrade next week, also offers flights to Canada, Panama, Switzerland, Cuba and England.

The airport gave Lufthansa $1 million in incentives to come here, including waiving all airport fees for two years.

International seat capacity from Tampa International grew 20 percent in 2014 and the airport hosted almost 600,000 international passengers, a 13.7 percent rise this year. Tampa International Airport has seen a 53.3 percent growth in international passenger traffic since 2010.

Tampa will be the first airport on Florida’s west coast to offer the service to Frankfurt. Lufthansa also flies out of Orlando and Miami.

“Tampa now has Europe right at its fingertips,” Carstensen said, noting that Lufthansa flies to 65 countries and 147 cities. And the airline wants to expand in the leisure market, he said. He also said that cargo is a very important part of Lufthansa’s business.

These new non-stop flights to Germany plug the Tampa Bay region in to “one of the most powerful hubs in the world,” said Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano, who has made it his mission to grow international flights from here. “This is a huge win for the Tampa Bay region. Lufthansa is one of the best-run and profitable airlines in the industry and their investment in this community is testament to the strength of our international travel market.”

And because Germany is one of the world’s leading economic powers and the world’s second largest exporting country, according to the Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council, that could lead to more jobs and foreign business growth here.

Already, some 66 German businesses are located in the Tampa Bay area, or 16 percent of all foreign-owned companies here, according to the council. German companies already employ about 22,000 people in Florida.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has made trade trips to both Germany and Switzerland to make business connections, said he has grown fond of the German term for mayor — Burgermeister — and jokingly urged the audience to use it when addressing him.

On a more serious note, Buckhorn said he spoke to several German business people who said they would like to extend operations to Tampa, but because there were no direct flights, they couldn’t do it.

“Thanks to a lot of people in this room, it happened,” Buckhorn said. He said Lopano and Chris Minner, vice president of marketing for Tampa International, “stalked these guys for three years making the case of why Tampa is the place for direct flights. You will not regret this decision,” he told Carstensen.

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, assured Carstensen that his operation, which promotes area tourism, will help ensure that Lufthansa is successful in this latest venture. He said Germany is Tampa Bay’s third-largest international tourism market, accounting for 11.6 percent of foreign visitors here in 2013. He expects those numbers to keep growing.

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater President and CEO David Downing said the tourism arm for Pinellas County is about to begin an advertising campaign in Germany with the theme From Black Forest to Blue Ocean, You Can Fly There. “This is a huge day for us,” he said.

Buckhorn said the new flights to and from Frankfurt will result in jobs and more opportunities to put Tampa front and center on the international stage.

“This is a really big deal,” said Robert Watkins, chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board. “The fact they’ve chosen us says a lot about our community.”

The flights on the wide-body Airbus A340-300 will arrive in Tampa at 3:50 p.m. The return flight will leave Tampa at 5:20 p.m. and arrive in Frankfurt at 8:45 a.m. the following day.

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