SRQ to seek new carriers with incentives to replace AirTran

jsalman@bradenton.comJanuary 23, 2012 

MANATEE -- The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority plans to aggressively seek a replacement for AirTran, which notified airport officials Friday it will cease all local service by summer.

As part of that plan, the board today unanimously bolstered its incentive package for new carriers, giving airlines that add new market flights a $7 per passenger fee abatement, among other incentives.

The airport also will explore marketing options to increase travel from countries like Brazil and Russia, which haven't been hit as hard by the recession.

With a weekend to sit on the news that AirTran would discontinue all flights at SRQ by mid-August, authority members were upbeat and looking forward. The decision will deliver a $1.2 million shortfall to airport, stripping about 360,000 passengers from the terminal, or one-third of the airport's overall traffic.

"Welcome to the new normal in American business," Airport Authority member Henry Rodriguez said. "I'm not surprised by this. We're depending on Midwesterners and the golden oldies, which is great, but we need to diversify."

Airport officials also said today they were surprised by how the AirTran withdrawal transpired Friday.

Typically when an airline makes a decision that significant a vice president will fly down to deliver the news in person. In this case, the decision came abruptly from a mid-level manager over the phone, SRQ Director Fred Piccolo said.

"To have it done in such an unprofessional way was a disservice," he said.

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