Air traffic at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport was up 4.35 percent the first six months of the year and up 23 percent in June, Rick Piccolo, the airport’s chief executive, said during a State of the Community lunch series address Wednesday.
The ballooning June figure reflects United Airlines scheduling flights through the summer and the addition of Allegiant Air to the roster of airlines serving SRQ, Piccolo told members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce meeting at the new Carlisle Inn.
In addition, Piccolo announced that the four largest airlines serving SRQ — Delta, American, United and JetBlue — have agreed to extend their operating agreements for another five years.
“We expect to bring that to the board soon,” Piccolo said of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.
Though Piccolo had no announcement of new airline service at SRQ, he said airport staff is in active discussions with several airlines.
The fact that the Bradenton-Sarasota area has added about 3,000 hotel rooms in recent years is an incentive to airlines to consider adding SRQ to their networks, he said.
The entrepreneurial and competitive spirit needed to run the airport, which has no taxing powers, seemed to surprise some in the room.
“The airport has nearly a $1 billion economic impact and it costs you zero taxes,” Piccolo said. “The airport has $24 million in cash and investments, $222 million in fixed assets and no debt. There are few airports in this country that are debt free.”
SRQ makes its money from businesses that operate on airport property, including Dolphin Aviation, Rectrix Aerodrome, Hampton Inn and Sun State Trucking, as well as aircraft landing fees, taxis and any vendor that operates there, he said.
Piccolo invited local residents to check flight availability and ticket price at SRQ before deciding to fly out of Tampa or other area airports.
About 70 percent of traffic at SRQ is in-bound.
Landing fees at SRQ are 42 percent lower than at Tampa International and 65.9 percent less that at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Piccolo said, attempting to dispel the notion that more local flights aren’t available because of higher fees.
As the result of $250 million investment in improvements in recent years, SRQ is a safe, efficient, virtually new airport, he said.
The most recent addition, a new $27 million air traffic control tower, became operational in June.
The airport is replacing the 13 loading bridges used by passengers to board or depart airliners.
Issues facing air travel include a pilot shortage, new technologies that could speed passenger boarding, and the possibility of drone passenger aircraft, piloted from the ground in the future.
Valerie Melignor, who recently moved to the area from Toronto, and Allan Shavitz, a long-time Lakewood Ranch resident, said they were impressed with the business skills needed to run SRQ.
“I learned that they run the airport like a large corporation,” Shavitz said.