MANATEE -- Traffic at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is starting to level off after two straight months of decline that officials blamed on this past winter’s brutal storms.
The SRQ airport showed an increase in March traffic over last year of less than 1 percent to 162,311 passengers, spokesperson Michael Walley told the county’s Tourism Development Council this week.
The slight tick upward follows a 3.13 percent decline in February 2011’s numbers over last year’s and a 2.72 percent decline in January.
“We had a whole bunch of cancellations in February because of the storms up north,” Rick Piccolo, airport chief executive officer, said. “I think that had a huge effect. And I think we tracked very closely to comparable airports.”
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More than 60 flights were canceled because of weather in February, Walley said, leading the airport to lose about 2,000 passengers. Most of those flights were from Delta, U.S. Airways, JetBlue and Airtran, all of which serve geographic areas hit hardest by the storms, Piccolo said.
Tampa International Airport showed the same general trend, with decreased traffic in January and February of this year compared to last and an increase in March of 1.5 percent to about 1.7 million passengers.
“I think that’s how we’re going to do for the rest of the year: flat or a slight increase,” said TPA spokesperson Brenda Geoghagan. “We’re hoping -- and pretty confident -- that we’re at the end of our negatives.”
By contrast, Orlando International Airport experienced increased traffic in both January and February of 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent, spokesperson Carolyn Fennell said. She said the Orlando area’s relatively high concentration of convention and meetings traffic compared to Southwest Florida likely insulated the airport -- which averaged between 2.7 million and 2.8 million passengers a month -- from being affected more severely by the storms that plagued the Midwest and Northeast in January and February.
Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers also was less affected by weather-related cancellations. While the Fort Myers airport showed a decrease of less than 1 percent in January 2011 compared to last year, traffic there increased by 4.6 percent in February to 790,124 passengers. Figures were not yet available for March, but spokesperson Victoria Moreland said indications are that Fort Myers will show another significant increase in passengers.
“Yes, there were cancellations in February,” Moreland said. “It’s difficult to compare us to Sarasota but from our standpoint, we had more flights and put more people out on planes in February.”
Moreland said four airlines added Fort Myers flights in February.
Fort Myers also is strengthened by its status as the only Florida airport with non-stop connecting flights to Germany.
Christine Hawes, Bradenton Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.