At the end of 2016, there were more air service carriers but fewer passengers flying in and out of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
SRQ lost 2.8 percent of its passenger traffic between 2015 and 2016, and was the only airport in Southwest Florida to drop in year-over-year passenger numbers.
St. Pete-Clearwater International and Punta Gorda airports saw substantial increases at 11.6 and 33.7 percent, respectively. Southwest Florida International’s was a modest increase of 2.8 percent and Tampa International had marginal growth of 0.6 percent.
Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, the president and CEO of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said in October that he expected the airport’s traffic to pick up after a summer slump. But passenger numbers continued on a downward trend through the end of the year.
“I think the seasonal services started later than we anticipated and we didn’t pick up like we thought we would,” Piccolo said. “We didn’t see as big of a drop as we did over the summer months, but we didn’t mitigate like I had hoped.”
SRQ was down almost 34,000 passengers in 2016 and Piccolo said the drop would have been worse if it weren’t for added flights and carriers. WestJet increased service to Toronto, Air Canada went from seasonal to year-round service, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines upgraded to aircrafts with more seats, and Elite Airways began service at SRQ in November.
“Overall we increased our number of carriers from five to seven (in 2015 and 2016) and added a few more destinations, so we have to take those victories and hope that as time goes on, JetBlue will bring back that flight,” Piccolo said.
JetBlue Airways and United Airlines both pulled flights from SRQ during the summer. When JetBlue’s seasonal service to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York began this year, the airline hacked its service from SRQ to LaGuardia Airport, also in New York.
Much of the success at St. Pete-Clearwater and Punta Gorda stems from increased service with low-cost carrier Allegiant Air, which started flying out of St. Pete-Clearwater in 2006 and Punta Gorda in 2009.
“Their whole fate is tied to one carrier,” Piccolo said. “It’s a double-edged sword for those airports.”
Allegiant has had discussions with SRQ staff and the domestic low-cost carrier is not interested in flying at SRQ, Piccolo said, though the airport would take Allegiant “without a doubt.”
Without disclosing specifics about the decision not to fly at SRQ, Allegiant is having adequate success in Southwest Florida.
“We are constantly looking at the mix of airports and markets, but as our growth in St. Pete and Punta Gorda suggest, we believe that our operations at those airports are currently serving demand in the region very well,” Allegiant Air spokeswoman Hilarie Grey said.
Allegiant is a different type of carrier. It’s a leisure carrier with two to three flights per week to peripheral destinations that are close to bigger destinations. It’s not going to connect you to the world or the business center. It’s not a business airline. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re worried about economic development and business relocation, that’s not the airline you’re going to utilize.
Rick Piccolo, President and CEO, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
James Parish, the president and CEO of Punta Gorda Airport, said carriers choose different airports for different reasons.
“We’re an ultra low-cost airport for an ultra low-cost carrier and I think that’s what gets them here,” Parish said. “Rick (Piccolo) can’t get traction with Allegiant and I can’t get traction with Delta.”
Parish also noted that Punta Gorda charges airlines “considerably less” than SRQ does and Punta Gorda’s commercial air service accounts for less than 10 percent of total operations. Allegiant began flying to three destinations from PGD in 2009 and has increased to 30 cities since then.
Punta Gorda Airport is largely supported by general aviation, Parish said.
At St. Pete-Clearwater, the airport just celebrated a 10-year anniversary with the discount airline. Allegiant’s service cities at PIE have grown from 12 to 54 since 2006.
“Every airport wants diversity in airlines, so that’s obviously a desirable profile to have,” St. Pete-Clearwater spokeswoman Michele Routh said. “That’s why we continue to go out there and market to other airlines as well. We will also say Allegiant just announced its 56th quarter of profitability, so it’s a pretty solid airline. We’re not worried about them going away tomorrow.”
Southwest Florida Airport Codes
- Sarasota Bradenton International Airport: SRQ
- St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport: PIE
- Tampa International Airport: TPA
- Punta Gorda Airport: PGD
- Southwest Florida International: RSW