The local airport hopes to become more competitive in attracting international business with a $1.8 million expansion that could more than double processing capacity for international arrivals.
Germany, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom are markets of opportunity, said Fred Piccolo, president and CEO of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Right now, the airport can process 100 to 120 arriving international passengers at a time. The process sometimes takes several hours with a limited queueing area that was built pre-Sept. 11.
The new design would streamline the flow and allow for 250 passengers or more.
Under existing conditions, international passengers must go through security before entering a corridor leading to baggage claim. Incoming baggage must then be rechecked after clearing customs, a labor-intensive procedure that is inefficient, Piccolo said.
An 8,000-square-foot expansion would include installing an expanded baggage area, interior elevator, larger restrooms, a third customs station and having two new buses for transferring passengers.
"Over time, we think there could be a demand," Piccolo said Wednesday at an Airport Authority meeting. "If we get to the point where we're wildly successful, we may see 10,000 passengers per year."
CanJet is the only carrier now offering daily, nonstop, international flights to the airport. The flights operate during the winter when snowbirds live here.
The airport hopes to attract Canjet year-round, Piccolo said.
In the upcoming season starting in October, 2,000 Canadian passengers are expected to pass through U.S. customs at the airport in a 10-week period.
Ninety percent of the space where improvements are slated will be eligible for public funding, paid for by Airport Improvement and Federal Aviation Administration funds, Piccolo said.
"From a regulatory standpoint, we'll be able to be approved relatively quickly," Piccolo said.
Airport Authority members approved $241,721.92 in funding for the design phase of the project.
Construction could begin as soon as next summer.
In other airport business Wednesday:
The airport's new budget for fiscal year 2006 was approved with rates and charges to signatory airlines remaining unchanged from 2005.
"This makes us much more attractive to airlines," said Bob Waechter, authority chairman.
The airport received permission to send help to Gulfport, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina. The airport would qualify for FEMA reimbursement, Piccolo said.
The Airport Authority on Wednesday approved raising airport parking fees across the board effective Oct. 1, with a few exceptions, including:
The first 30 minutes of parking will be free in the short-term lot.
After 30 minutes of free parking, 31 to 60 minutes will remain unchanged at $2.
After 60 minutes, each additional half-hour will increase from 50 cents to $1.
The 24-hour maximum in short-term parking will increase from $11 to $12.
Long-term parking is going up from $9 to $10 for 24 hours, and from $59 to $65 per week.
Rate increases are expected to increase long-term revenue by $200,000 for the airport.