MANATEE — Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport’s failure to lure a German airline has airport officials assessing how much they are willing to spend to pursue international flights.
“We need to hold a discussion on how deeply we want the international market,” Fredrick Piccolo, SRQ’s president and chief executive, told Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority members Monday. “We need to take a look at the much-bigger picture.”
Prompting the self-examination was SRQ’s effort to land Condor Airlines, a charter airline based in Frankfurt. The airline had tentatively agreed to offer seasonal trans-Atlantic service in 2011 and 2012, but later decided against it because of lingering concerns about Europeans’ perceptions of the Gulf oil spill.
To accommodate Condor, SRQ would have had to significantly expand its U.S. Customs facility. The airport budgeted $600,000 for the work, a “very rough estimate” based on what customs officials informally said they needed for Condor, Piccolo said.
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But without more-concrete plans from customs, Piccolo said he’s afraid the cost could be much higher — especially if SRQ hopes to attract other European airlines and their higher-passenger airplanes.
Given that SRQ now spends a “miniscule” amount on wooing foreign airlines, Piccolo said it’s a good time to look at how much it’s willing to invest in the effort.
One board member agreed.
“I look forward to the discussion of international versus domestic,” Eric Robinson said.
No timetable has been set for that discussion, but Piccolo said it will happen after he gets better cost estimates for the customs improvements.
Also on Monday, the authority:
n Unanimously approved the airport’s 2010-11 budget, which includes merit pay raises of up to 7 percent for SRQ’s 129 employees but no changes in parking rates. The $21.4 million operating budget also set SRQ’s landing fees at 83 cents for every 1,000 pounds, the lowest since SRQ’s terminal opened in 1989. The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
n Rejected Piccolo’s proposal to “piggyback” on a Sarasota County schools contract to reseal airport parking lots and told him to seek bids instead. Piccolo said he took the piggyback route so that the work could be done before the winter season began, Board members said they were willing to delay the project to next year in hopes of getting a better price than the $152,389 that Asphalt Repair Service of Sarasota offered.
n Heard a presentation from Paradise Advertising, SRQ’s recently hired marketing contractor. The agency said it plans to use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, create a mobile version of SRQ’s website and employ other digital tactics to market the airport to airlines and travelers.
n Renewed its air service incentive program, in which the airport offers to reduce or waive fees and provide marketing support for new flights.
The incentive amounts vary, with the largest incentives offered for twice-daily, year-round non-stop service to Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Detroit; Houston; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia and Phoenix.
Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.