SRQ ready to host first European airline

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport may see service from its first European-based airline in 2011, with direct flights to and from Frankfurt, Germany.

SRQ officials confirmed Tuesday they expect an announcement in the next two weeks that a deal to bring flights via Condor Airlines, based in Frankfurt, to SRQ has been made.

“We are 90 percent there,” said SRQ President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Piccolo.

The twice-a-week flights from Frankfurt would begin in April 2011 and go through October 2011. Officials are hoping such a deal with a European provider will open the door to more European nonstop flights. Right now, Air Canada is the only international airline servicing SRQ, offering daily service to Toronto during the winter tourism season.

The Germany deal, which has been in the works for four years, would be a boom to the local tourism industry, experts say.

“It would put us on the map internationally,” said Jessica Grace, marketing and public relations director for the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Our fingers are crossed,” said Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau. About 70 percent of the traffic through Condor would be visitors with wholesale travel packages, a revenue stream that tourism officials hope will increase.

“German tourists are different from Americans,” Haley said. They, like other Europeans, book most of their trips ahead of time and purchase travel packages that include hotel accommodations, airline flights and restaurants, she said.

Condor this week is beginning its first flights to Florida, with two flights per week to the Fort Lauderdale airport.

“That’s encouraging for us,” Piccolo said.

But Piccolo is worried that current events, like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the drop of the Euro, might delay Condor’s decision.

“The cost is more expensive for European customers now,” he said.

With the oil spill, unless a resolution to it is imminent, Condor might decide it is too risky right now to make the investment, Piccolo said.

“They could say, ‘Do I take this kind of risk with the cloud hanging out there or do I wait a year,’ ” he said.

SRQ spends about $40,000 a year in travel, attending trade shows, and other promotions to attract more international travel, Piccolo said.

The airport is also talking with officials from a Holland airline company.

“There is an ongoing dialogue between SRQ and carriers,” said Michael Walley, director of development and community relations for the airport.

“Some are more imminent than others.”