MANATEE -- Canadian tourists don't have to limit their flights to Sarasota to just snowbird season anymore.
Air Canada will now offer year-round flights from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to Toronto's Pearson International Airport starting May 2.
The airline has served SRQ with daily non-stop seasonal service since 2006 during peak tourism season from November to April.
The new service will offer two weekly nonstop flights Thursdays and Saturdays.
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"It signals a new dynamic," Fredrick "Rick" Piccolo, SRQ president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday. "This is the first yearlong international service we've had in a long, long time."
The summer flights would fly on slightly smaller planes than the in-season flights Air Canada uses under its rouge banner. The Embraer-190 aircraft features nine business class, 24 preferred and 64 economy seats that all feature video on demand service, according to SRQ. Seasonal flights on an Airbus carry about 156 passengers.
"We are excited to have Air Canada extend their seasonal service at SRQ with year-round flights. Sarasota-Bradenton area is a popular destination for Canadians, so we look forward to welcoming our northern neighbors the entire year," Piccolo said. "Local residents can now also enjoy non-stop service to beautiful Toronto during the summer or connect conveniently in Toronto and visit other worldwide destinations using Air Canada's extensive network."
The service also helps bring more European travelers to Sarasota by using Toronto as a gateway, Piccolo said.
The added service is part of an expansion to several key leisure markets, Air Canada officials said in an announcement Tuesday.
Piccolo said he's impressed with Air Canada making the decision while the Canadian dollar is at its weakest in some time. On Tuesday, a Canadian dollar was worth 87 cents in the United States, and is expected to continue to fall.
"I think it's always a concern but since they made this decision at this time, it shows the strength of our market," Piccolo said.
Despite a weak loonie, more Canadians are buying homes in Florida because rental rates are increasing and vacancies are tightening, according to a report by Canada's Financial Post.
An annual snowbird outlook report from BMO Bank of Montreal this fall found that it's a good time for Canadians to buy here because their real estate and investment would be worth more than in Canada.
"Florida properties are a bargain compared to real estate in Canada. The median- priced home in Florida is nearly half that in Canada," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer, BMO Harris Private Bank, when the report was released in October. "Popular areas include Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Orlando-Kissimmee, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Naples-Marco Island. "We project retirement state housing prices to outpace the national average, due to increasing numbers of retirees, and abundance of capital from abroad and lower interest rates."
That's exactly one of the reasons Piccolo thought more flights to Sarasota from Toronto would be favorable -- it makes buying real estate here more attractive.
"When Canadians purchase a second home down here or a condo, it makes it easier because now they have a way to get here year-round," he said.
The new service also will receive $100,000 in marketing incentive money from the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority in its first year, Piccolo said.
The summer flights will depart Toronto at 2:55 p.m. and arrive at 5:52 p.m. and leave Sarasota at 6:35 p.m. and arrive in Toronto at 9:23 p.m.
Seasonal flights, which start Sunday and run through April 30, leave Toronto at 8:40 a.m., arriving in Sarasota at 11:47 a.m., and depart SRQ at 12:30 p.m. and arrive in Toronto at 3:25 p.m.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.