Tampa airport and airlines eye Isaac ahead of GOP convention

(CNN) -- With up to 50,000 people expected to descend on Tampa for next week's Republican convention, airlines and the city's airport handling those flying into the city are closely following the track and strength of Tropical Storm Isaac.

"Hurricane season comes every year so we feel we are fully prepared to deal with whatever Mother Nature brings us," Janet Zink, communications director for the Tampa International Airport, told CNN.

"Our incident command center is already set up because of the Republican National Convention so everybody is communicating and talking and we are already discussing what we will do in the way of the weather," Zink said.

The airport that handled more than 76,000 departures last year was hit by four major storms in 2004 and emergency plans include evacuating concourses and anchoring aircraft boarding bridges to the tarmac, if necessary.

"Typically after a storm, we can be back up and running in six hours depending on how much damage there was," Zink said.

Operations can be delayed further if workers have trouble getting to the airport after a storm.

Isaac was expected to whip Haiti with gale-force winds and stinging rain later on Friday. Its current track would bring it near Cuba on Sunday, the busiest travel day for the convention, which begins on Monday.

Storm paths can change dramatically over several days and recent forecasts show Isaac's path trending away from Tampa. Potential tracks show the storm could be near Tampa on Monday or early Tuesday, but could also be as far west as Louisiana.

Major carriers serving Tampa include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Southwest Airlines. The companies tell CNN that they are monitoring Isaac closely. They were running normal schedules on Friday and there were no immediate signs that Isaac would alter flight plans for Tampa.

"Right now, our meteorology team and customer service team are tracking the storm and watching where it is going," Ashley Dillon, a Southwest spokeswoman, said. "We don't feel that it is going to have a big impact on Southwest operations where it is tracking right now, but that could change."

Southwest has the largest share of business among the competitors at Tampa, according to Transportation Department data.

Airlines tend to draw down operations, cancel flights and reposition planes and crews ahead of a major storm, and it can take a day or two for them to resume full schedules at big airports.

Airlines also generally waive certain fees if passengers are inconvenienced due to storm-related cancellations.