Sarasota Bradenton International Airport’s passenger numbers rose slightly in January but dropped again in February.
At Monday’s Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority meeting, SRQ President and CEO Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo noted that Southwest Florida International Airport and Tampa International Airport lost traffic year-over-year in February as well.
Blame it on the calendar, he said.
“Part of the reason was that last year was a leap year,” Piccolo said. “We lost a day, which is about 4,600 seats.”
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Year-over-year, SRQ lost 6,484 in February and gained 186 in January.
We had one meeting at a headquarters with an international carrier. And we had a meeting with a carrier at a U.S. headquarters as well and that is a carrier that we don’t have at the present time.
SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo, on attracting new service to the airport
SRQ lost 5.4 percent of passenger traffic year-over-year, while Southwest Florida International and Tampa International each had a less than 1 percent drop. In the first two months of 2017, Punta Gorda Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport continued to see growth in passenger numbers as they did throughout 2016.
SMAA board member Carlos Beruff asked Piccolo why the population in the Manatee-Sarasota region has grown but passenger numbers at SRQ have not.
“I guess my question is why we designed a facility that’s 30 years old and hasn’t reached capacity yet,” Beruff said.
Piccolo replied that there’s no correlation between population and passenger numbers, as 70 percent of SRQ’s passengers come from outside of the area. He pivoted to explain airline consolidation as one of the reasons for low passenger numbers.
As he’s said numerous times before, Piccolo believes an increased population will lend itself to more congestion, which will compel travelers to fly out of SRQ instead of making the drive to Tampa.
6,298 net loss in 2017 passengers at SRQ
Piccolo recapped what he and Mark Stuckey, the airport’s vice president and COO, do to attract new air service, though he wouldn’t give too many details.
“We had one meeting at a headquarters with an international carrier,” Piccolo said. “And we had a meeting with a carrier at a U.S. headquarters as well and that is a carrier that we don’t have at the present time.”
Germany, the United Kingdom and Holland are the likeliest destinations for international flights, he said, with flights provided by a niche airline. The conversation with the U.S. carrier spanned possible destinations all over the nation, though he specified the West as a particular region of interest.
If there is new air service, it likely won’t be announced until summer, Piccolo said.
Airport officials also hope increased amenities and an improved customer experience will bring people back. The SMAA approved a change order to the airport’s new covered parking project to include security cameras, additional lighting and increasing the width of the entrance to accommodate two ticket spitters instead of one.
Piccolo estimates this will be the last change and that the covered parking will be finished by summer.