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Secondary Airport In Florida That Is Flourishing

Recently we have become convinced that the best way to market Worcester Airport is to market ourselves as the "Gateway" to Florida. To that end there are many airports in Florida that we would provide huge opportunites to Worcester, just the big ones like Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa or Fort Myers

There are alot of great airports in secondary cities, like Worcester, that would be great fits for Worcester. Today we learn about Sarasota Brandenton International Airport (SRQ) from their CEO and President, Frederick Piccolo (pictured below).

Thanks you Mr Piccolo. The rest of this post is from Rick himself.


Background on SRQ

There has been a myriad of activities at SRQ over the last few years both from a capital improvement perspective as well as air service improvements. The airport embarked on a four year program to completely refurbish our terminal which included new HVAC, roof, fiber optic backbone, upgraded Wi Fi, new lighting, floors, wall, ceiling and counter finishes. This was accomplished on a pay-as-you-go basis while retiring the debt from the initial construction of the terminal back in 1989. In addition, the terminal curbside was expanded and new landscaping and LED lighting was added. Last year all 13 gates had new jet bridges installed and shade parking and rental car all weather cover was completed as well. On the airfield side a joint project between FAA, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Airport Authority split the cost of a new $27 million Air Traffic Control Tower which opens up 92 acres of airfield infield for future development. SRQ is totally self sufficient from our business operations so the opening of this area for future development enhances our ability to generate future revenues.

On the air service front 2018 has been a whirlwind of activity. In 2015, 2016, and 2017 the airport handled, 1,184,442, 1,186,419, and 1,181,332 passengers respectively. As you can see traffic was essentially flat over those three years. In the first 11 months of 2018 the airport has already handled 1,227,189 passengers and we expect December to put the airport close or above 1,400,000 passengers or an increase of around 18%. SRQ added two new airlines (Allegiant, Frontier), 20 new routes, and 15 new cities. January 2019 show a seat increase of 44% over 2018 so the trend continues. Our vendors have added two new food and gift facilities in an effort to keep pace with the growth and the airport has added 250 additional parking spaces so far. Plans are being formulated to add 250 more parking spaces and we are designing an expansion of our fuel farm to keep pace with the increased demand. There are certainly some growth challenges facing the airport particularly as it relates to keeping our security lines short and keeping up with increased janitorial requirements but they are the type of problems that come with such rapid growth. In the spring Allegiant adds another nine destinations so our traffic will continue to be on an upwards projection presenting additional challenges and rewards. Our community is enthused about the added choices and the tremendous economic impact these new flights bring, especially in a tourism location like Sarasota/Bradenton. We believe the continued success will lead to additional destinations from our carriers and by 2020 the airport could exceed 2 million passengers annually.

1) This year you started with 3 routes from Allegiant, now they have announced 9 new routes in the Spring. What did Allegiant like so much to add all of these flights this fast?

We have consistently told all prospective airlines that our market was both underserved and that customers were willing to pay a “convenience differential” to utilize SRQ despite the airport being within 1-2+ hours of five other airports around us. The airport has a very aggressive incentive program in partnership with the two local convention and visitor bureaus as the airport sits in two counties. Our incentive program allows any new route to operate for free for two years and the airport and CVB’s provide anywhere from $50,000 to $400,000 of marketing support for three years depending on the route and duration. When Allegiant started the service here they found that their load factors consistently in the 90-95% range and they were realizing a higher yield because customers will willing to pay that convenience differential to avoid the heavy traffic and long lines at larger airports in our region. The promotion of the routes also built awareness very quickly. The early success of the routes demonstrated to Allegiant the demand in our market and the willingness of the airport and CVB’s to be true partners with our carriers. Those two factors impressed Allegiant and they then announced one of the biggest and quickest expansions at any station they have ever started. This also spurred additional competitive responses from both existing and new carriers.

2) Currently you have new service with another ultra-low-cost carrier, Frontier Airlines, starting this month with ironically 3 routes. Do you envision the same type of expansion as you have had with Allegiant?

While Frontier has only been operating at SRQ for about three weeks the response to their service appears to be going extremely well. Given Frontier has a number of aircraft coming on line over the next couple years we believe the potential for added capacity is strong. Whether that will come as quickly as Allegiant we do not know but they are off to a very positive response. In addition, American Airlines added three cities this month, United added more frequencies to Chicago and Newark and Delta increased the size of their aircraft serving our airport. We are presently averaging about 25%-35% increases over the same period last year and expect that trend to continue through the spring at least.

3) You are about one hour away from Tampa and Fort Myers, similar to Worcester being one hour away from Manchester, Boston, Providence and Hartford and have managed to have a lot of success. What advice would you give us in Worcester ?

In our case we have tried to emphasize to our potential community users the convenience, ease of travel through our facility, and shorter lines. To prospective airlines we certainly provide reams of demographic and market demand data, coupled with our robust incentive program. SRQ also has the advantage of being an airport with a completely renovated terminal with excess capacity and the airport has no debt so the airlines know that there will not be any large cost spikes in the near future to build capacity. This provides the airlines with a level of comfort for the future. The Sarasota/Bradenton area also has the advantage of being a year round resort and vacation destination so there is some built in demand advantages for the area. The number one beach in the U.S. at Siesta Key, three spring training teams (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta), extensive eco-tourism, dozens of golf courses, tremendous cultural amenities with our own Opera, Ballet, Symphony and theater productions, fishing and boating, and sports tourism. The community has been adding 20,000 residents a year for the last six years as well so all these factors are communicated to airlines and certainly are factors that attract their attention. I do not know what the particular circumstances are at Worcester but I would say our incentive and CVB partnerships are an important component of our recruiting program combined with all the demographic details mentioned above.

4) What do you customers give as the biggest reason they go to your airport versus these other airports?

Ease of use and the relaxed feeling they get going through our facility. The lines are shorter, they don’t have to fight traffic all the way to the other facilities, the parking charges are lower, and when they arrive they are either close to their hotel or their home. It’s just much easier and makes for a relaxed start or end to a journey.

5) Currently you have seasonal service with JetBlue out of Boston, and will add a 2nd flight in January. Do you see JetBlue making this flight year-round??

We continue to talk with JetBlue about Boston and believe that year round Boston service would do very well here as their seasonal service has been very successful. Given the efforts of some of JetBlue’s competitors to build up the Boston hub (e.g. Delta) we are hopeful that JetBlue will agree that SRQ service year round would be in their best interest.

I hope this response was helpful. I would emphasize that this was not on overnight success. It took many years and numerous visits to the airlines to convince them that our market would respond and that the airlines could take the risk of serving our area with all the other airports that were in the region. Thank you for the opportunity to respond and Happy New Year to all your readers.

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User Comments


commented on 2019-01-03 11:08:55

This is awesome all-around. Thanks for your feedback Mr. Piccolo! Quite an impressive story in the aviation industry you have going right now. Great work

Common Sense

commented on 2019-01-04 00:46:16

I just had the pleasure of being awaken by the JB flight from JFK around 1am. ORH was never intended to be a major commercial jetport. If it was it wouldn't have been built on top ofa 1,000 ft. hill surrounded by residential neighborhoods. It was to be mainly for small private and commuter airplanes. People who have bought homes in the area were always under that impression. It's really not fair for Massport to come in here and change that dynamic. Some of my neighbors are going to contact our district councilor to see if we can schedule a meeting with Massport to get a better handle on what their goals are at ORH. The current airlines, hubs and flights can pretty much get you anywhere you need to go from ORH. Other than maybe another FL. route we don't see any need for any additional airline service. We work hard and pay our taxes on time. We deserve to have a restful sleep.

Tim macdonald

commented on 2019-01-04 06:10:58

The flight came in at 11:30 last night.

Common Sense

commented on 2019-01-04 13:53:10

A jet flew over my house at around 1am this morning. It was either a delayed AA flight or an alien spaceship. Even if the JB JFK flight came in at 11:45 that's too late. If they could limit the range of flights from 6am to 10pm that would be more tolerable. What's going on with Rectrix? They failed to follow through on their promise to make ORH the main hub for their corporate jet fleet, their flight to BWI never got off the ground and their seasonal service flight to Hyannis has pretty much been a failure.


commented on 2019-01-06 12:32:26

Common sense, we looked at the flight tracker and at 1 am a Pilatus PC12 landed. This is quest diagnostics and they have been doing this same exact flight for 3 years now Monday through Friday land at 1 AM and depart again in 15-30 minutes. In fact the first year it was operated by a jet aircraft, it is now the more quiet turboprop. Funny you just notice it now. We wish you the best of luck in your meeting I’m sure Massport would love to hear you cry about 7 flights a day. We would love to hear what their goals are though, so sincerely good luck.


commented on 2019-01-06 12:32:27

Common sense, we looked at the flight tracker and at 1 am a Pilatus PC12 landed. This is quest diagnostics and they have been doing this same exact flight for 3 years now Monday through Friday land at 1 AM and depart again in 15-30 minutes. In fact the first year it was operated by a jet aircraft, it is now the more quiet turboprop. Funny you just notice it now. We wish you the best of luck in your meeting I’m sure Massport would love to hear you cry about 7 flights a day. We would love to hear what their goals are though, so sincerely good luck.

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