AirTran Airways on Wednesday announced plans to add daily nonstop service to area fliers' top two destinations - New York and Boston - from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport beginning in November.
The expansion brings the number of destinations offered by the low-cost carrier to seven since it began service at Sarasota-Bradenton in December.
The latest announcement represents a milestone and promises to stimulate interest from other airlines, airport officials and an aviation consultant said.
An elated Fred Piccolo, airport president and CEO, told airport authority members Wednesday that AirTran's rate of expansion is "unheard of" in the industry.
"Up until a year ago, Sarasota-Bradenton was viewed as a risky airport," said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant with The Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo.
Boyd, who worked with Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to attract AirTran, said SRQ could be one of the fastest-growing small airports in the nation in the next two years.
"The airport is coming of age," Boyd said. "Airlines are discovering markets like Sarasota-Bradenton, where they can make money. The days are over when you have to worry about air service there."
Daily round-trip flights to New York's La Guardia Airport will begin Nov. 8 using Boeing 717 aircraft. Service to Boston's Logan International Airport will begin Nov. 16 on Boeing 737s.
An AirTran spokeswoman confirmed the airline's satisfaction with the Sarasota-Bradenton market.
Adding seven destinations in eight months "is certainly a record for us," said Judy Graham-Weaver, public relations manager with AirTran. "We want routes that are going to be profitable and well received by the market. So far, everything we have put into SRQ has done just that."
With the new service, AirTran will serve seven of the top 10 destinations from Sarasota-Bradenton airport, including the top two - New York and Boston - said John Kirby, AirTran's director of strategic planning, in a news release.
AirTran destinations from Sarasota-Bradenton include Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington, Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis.
"New York City is our No. 1 market, and Boston, over the years, has consistently been a top-five market despite the lack of nonstop service," Piccolo said.
Piccolo celebrated by presenting airport authority Chairman Bob Waechter with New York Mets, Yankees and Boston Red Sox baseball caps at the monthly authority meeting Wednesday.
"We've been trying to get nonstop service to Northeast destinations for years," Piccolo said.
Passenger traffic was up 20 percent at SRQ in June, and up almost 20 percent for the year.
Boyd estimates about 1 million passengers in the Sarasota-Bradenton area have used other airports because of the lack of seats and higher fares associated with flights departing from SRQ.
But all that's history, Boyd said.
"Both have been addressed," he said. "This is just the start."
Waechter echoed the optimism.
"We hope other airlines will look at us," Waechter said. "We have built it. Now they can come."
Copyright 2005 Associated Press