Dick and Kathy Bishop of Bradenton appreciate the handiness of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
As does Crystal Long of Sarasota.
“I do love the convenience,” Long said this week while awaiting her ride home after flying in from Wilmington, N.C. “The flight on Delta was awesome. Our flight was full.”
So, how handy is SRQ?
With its location on the Manatee-Sarasota line and the availability of more affordable flights than ever before, Sarasota Bradenton International offers a viable alternative to larger airports and has become the second-fastest growing airport in the United States.
The arrival of low-fare airlines Allegiant and Frontier helped spark the turnaround after years of slow growth.
Frontier Airlines announced Tuesday that it is adding new nonstop service between Sarasota Bradenton International Airport and Trenton, N.J., marking SRQ’s 30th destination.
“Eighteen months ago we had 10 destinations,” SRQ president and CEO Rick Piccolo said of the growth. “Our figures just keep crawling up.”
Rather than a crawl, it has been full-throttle growth in passenger traffic.
SRQ passenger traffic set an all-time record in June with 147,615 passengers passing through the airport, up 48.7 percent over June 2018. Year-to-date passenger numbers are up 39.6 percent, according to airport officials.
Since September 2018, SRQ has seen a 40.1 percent growth in passenger traffic, trailing only Asheville, N.C., which experienced 48.4 percent growth.
All airlines serving SRQ have seen growth since September. New airlines Allegiant and Frontier have served, respectively, 124,806 and 37,910 passengers.
Legacy airlines such as American are benefiting as well. Since September, American has served an additional 50,889 passengers. United has seen an increase of 45,568 passengers and Delta has served an additional 30,274 passengers.
Passenger traffic for the first six months of 2019 totaled 988,105 passengers. Also, SRQ has seen 16 straight months of passenger growth.
“It makes you feel great,” Piccolo said of the growth spurt.
Previous to the last year and a half, traffic had not increased more than 1 percent annually most of the past decade, Piccolo said.
“To see this growth continuing for all our airlines is just remarkable,” Piccolo said. “When Allegiant decided to come in here, we knew our traffic would go up, but it is pretty much unprecedented.”
The new growth has paid for itself. The airport operates debt free and without taxing local property owners.
But it has strained baggage handling and fuel farm capacity, both of which airport officials have been working to increase.
By next summer, fuel storage capacity at the airport should be doubled, Piccolo said.
The airport also had to beef up its janitorial services to keep the terminal clean.
In the recent past, the airport served about 1.1 million passengers a year, and now has nearly 1 million in six months.
“It’s a different set of challenges from the old days when we weren’t in a growth mode,” Piccolo said.
There may be more growth to come with airport officials continuing to negotiate with other carriers that do not serve SRQ. Piccolo believes the double-digit growth in passenger traffic will continue at least into the spring of 2020.
The Bishops often fly out of SRQ, sometimes to Chicago, but their time in the terminal this week was awaiting the arriving flight carrying their granddaughter.
“What a difference between this airport and O’Hare in Chicago,” Dick Bishop said.
“We like this airport. Tampa International is fine, but we like to come here since we live in Bradenton,” he said.
Among the 18 new destinations offered at SRQ are Asheville, N.C., Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Grand Rapids, Mich., Harrisburg, Penn., Indianapolis, Melbourne, Fla., Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Syracuse, Traverse City, Mich., and Washington, D.C.
“SRQ continues to enjoy rapid growth with new airlines, more nonstop destinations, and competitive fares that make flying to and from SRQ affordable and convenient. We expect to see continued growth moving forward and are excited to become the premier gateway for Sarasota-Bradenton and its beaches,” Piccolo said.