Last week, travelers flying on Allegiant from SRQ into Pittsburgh received an early Christmas gift. As they were about to board, a representative from Allegiant announced all passengers would be reimbursed for the flight. How is that for instantly fattening your spending budget? And that is not the only good news coming out of SRQ these days. A new 128-foot air traffic control tower positions SRQ with state-of-the-art equipment as the airport continues to see steady growth. Additional carriers like Frontier are providing the Suncoast with greater convenience in traveling to an expanding list of cities. Anybody who has flown out of SRQ understands the ease in which you can drop passengers off and the number of parking options should you need to park for an extended period.
For families traveling with small children, you cannot beat the short distance from car to airplane, something vital for a successful flight with youngsters.
The Sarasota Post had the opportunity to speak with President and Chief Executive Officer of SRQ, Rick Piccolo. Here is our interview.
SP: We are so excited to see the new flights coming in and out of SRQ. What do you attribute the growth to?
Mr. Piccolo: There are a number of factors. Certainly, the significant growth in population and tourism over the last few years has a major impact. Over 3,000 new hotel rooms have been built in just the last couple years which translates into over one million room nights. The hotel firms would not build those accommodations if they did not think the demand was there. This does not even take into account the Airbnb and VRBO type growth. In addition, the economy has been very strong the last couple years. In addition to these macro factors the airport has been very aggressive in our recruitment efforts offering two years of rent free and landing fee free operations at the airport for new service. This permits any airline to try a new route with no airport costs. In addition, the airport has partnered with both the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Visit Sarasota County on joint marketing programs funded by our three entities that advertises the new service at no cost to the airline. The area has been underserved for some time and with the increasing population and tourism this added roadway congestion has made trips to other airports far more difficult and time consuming, so people are now choosing the ease and convenience of SRQ. We meet regularly with both the airlines we have and the ones we do not have to update them on demographic information and opportunities we believe exist from SRQ.
SP: Do you have more business or personal travelers?
Mr. Piccolo: Our surveys show SRQ has more leisure travelers than business travelers but the business component at SRQ has been increasing with the growth of the area.
SP: Besides the convenience of the location of the airport, what other perks are associated with utilizing SRQ?
Mr. Piccolo: SRQ offers a “boutique” experience versus other facilities with a level of ease and convenience not available at other facilities. Generally, SRQ has short walks from parking, short lines at ticketing and security, very robust FREE Wi-Fi, Flight radar screens that show you exactly where your aircraft is, friendly employees, a very clean facility that is in fantastic condition and all the legacy carriers that can get you to anywhere in the world, usually with one stop. SRQ also has low cost carriers offering a number of nonstop destinations.
SP: Can you tell us a little about your background in aviation? How long have you worked with SRQ?
Mr. Piccolo: I have been at SRQ 23 years. Prior to SRQ I worked nine years as Assistant Airport Director at St. Petersburg Clearwater International, three years as Assistant Director of Operations at Tampa International, and thirteen years at Buffalo Niagara International Airport where I started as a janitor and worked my way up to various positions in both maintenance and management while getting my bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
SP: Sarasota is such a dynamic area, does the airport cater to convention guests, and how closely do you work with area hotels, and local leaders to insure Sarasota continues to grow?
Mr. Piccolo: We like to think we cater to any type of guests. Given the area lacks a major conference center we do not see the level of conference business that some other cities our size experience. When we do have an event or smaller conference in the area we have worked with the organizer to ensure welcome desks and transportation providers are accommodated. We work very closely with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus on promotion and work with hotels when an event or conference is being held at their facility. The airport has long advocated for a new, dedicated conference center that could handle both conferences and local events in the 1,500 to 2,000-person range. This would be a great boon to the area and would attract more direct service to the region. Hopefully that day will come sometime in the future.
SP: How difficult is it to respond to the changing needs of the FAA with regards to travelers and security measures?
Mr. Piccolo: The ever-changing threat environment is a constant challenge for the airport. The airport will spend over $3.3 million on public safety operations in FY 2019. The airport has no taxing power and funds its entire operation from our business revenues. As the threat of terrorism, as well as the phenomenon of “active shooter” cases increases, it has necessitated new capital investments in facilities and equipment and added to the personnel costs that the airport must bear from our business revenues. Our Police and Fire Departments are well-trained, highly professional and meet all the same requirements as any municipal department in Florida, so users can rest assured that they have great professionals looking out for their well-being.
We cannot wait to follow the expansion of SRQ, the area’s favorite airport. For more information on cities that are serviced by SRQ, please click here
Photos courtesy of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport Facebook page.