Passenger traffic is up at SRQ. Here’s how airport is working to accommodate even more

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport served 190,000 more passengers in 2018 than in it did in 2017.

This week, the airport authority set in motion projects to increase the fuel farm supply that has been running at a critical day-and-a-half supply, and to add more parking to handle all the new business.

Overall, passenger traffic was up 16.1 percent for 2018, Rick Piccolo, airport president and CEO, told members of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority on Monday.

“It’s been a very good year,” he said.

In response, the airport authority heard proposals from three firms seeking to design an expanded storage capacity by a minimum of 80,000 gallons of Jet A fuel, nearly doubling the airport’s fuel capacity.

Currently, fuel is trucked in from Port Tampa Bay, but severe weather events or a truck driver shortage can make run the fuel supply uncomfortably low.

Airport authority member Carlos Beruff noted that the airport industry standard for fuel storage is five days, and that the proposed expansion would increase the supply to only a little more than three days.

“If carriers are going to continue to expand, aren’t we just putting a Band-Aid on it? Can we think a little bigger?” Beruff asked. “Could you expand to 120,000 gallons?”

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The addition of Frontier Airlines at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport has helped the airport reap big gains in passenger traffic. AP file photo

Kent Bontrager, SRQ vice president for engineering, planning and facilities, said the fuel farm design project was written to provide 80,000 gallons or more capacity, and that should not be a problem.

After hearing proposals from three firms, the airport authority authorized staff to begin contract negotiations with Prime Engineering, which has an area office in Tampa.

In its preliminary discussions with the airport authority, Prime presented one scenario showing how SRQ could add two vertical tanks that would provide the five-day fuel supply the airport needs.

in 2018, SRQ added new carriers Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines, and added 20 new routes and 15 new destinations.

Piccolo said he expects airport passenger traffic will continue to grow in 2019. With that in mind, the airport authority heard proposals from three engineering companies for designing additional vehicle parking that would expand capacity from about 1,500 to nearly 2,000.

Among areas to be expanded are long-term parking, the overflow lot near shade parking and the facilities lot.

The airport authority ranked Cardno of Clearwater the No. 1 firm. Staff will enter negotiations with Cardno and report back to the authority with a proposed contract award. If staff is unable to reach a mutually agreeable contract price, they will enter talks with the second-ranked firm, American Infrastructure Group.

Once the contracts are awarded for design of the fuel farm and parking lot projects, Piccolo said he hopes both can be completed in about one year.

To assist in the continued marketing of SRQ to U.S. and international airlines, the airport authority approved a resolution allocating $2 million for air service incentives. The money is used not only in working with airlines, but also the tourism development corporations in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Earlier this month, Piccolo told a Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliners luncheon that he would like to see new nonstop Northeast, Midwest and Western destinations as well as international routes between SRQ and western Europe and Canada.