A growing AirTran Airways is adding three southeastern U.S. flights to Detroit, including one out of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
A local airport official announced Thursday that the flights to and from SRQ starting in February - AirTran's fifth at the local airport since starting service there in December - made the low-cost carrier "SRQ's largest destination airline, serving more cities than any other airline from the airport."
AirTran service to SRQ, which began after the agreement of a $2 million government-airport authority subsidy, was seen as resuscitating an airport that had been losing airlines and passengers since Sept. 11, 2001.
Last week, parent AirTran Holdings Inc. reported the airline's revenue passenger miles system-wide grew 39.4 percent to nearly 1.1 billion RPMs in July. AirTran boarded 1.6 million passengers in the month.
Starting Nov. 8, AirTran is adding flights to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport from Atlanta and Orlando.
On Feb. 15, the Sarasota-Bradenton/Detroit flights will begin.
The nonstop service will leave Detroit at 12:10 p.m., arriving at Sarasota-Bradenton at 3 p.m.; depart SRQ at 3:35 p.m., arriving in Detroit at 6:25 p.m.
Already, AirTran flies in and out of SRQ to and from Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington, Chicago Midway and Indianapolis.
Airport President and CEO Fred Piccolo said, in his experience, upper-Midwest destinations have always been popular with travelers from SRQ.
"This addition of nonstop service to Detroit is another positive step in the growth of both SRQ and AirTran Airways, and demonstrates the value they bring to the community," Piccolo said.
He said he expected AirTran to expand service at Sarasota-Bradenton.
The Feb. 15 start of the SRQ-Detroit flights are timed to benefit from snow-bird, winter-tourism and spring-training baseball traffic. The Detroit Tigers are occasional visitors to play the Pirates in Bradenton and Reds in Sarasota.
The expansion brings the number of destinations offered by the low-cost carrier to seven since it began service at Sarasota-Bradenton in December.
AirTran Airways plans to start daily non-stop service between Indianapolis and the local airport in November, restoring a route that was lost in April when ATA Airlines went bankrupt.
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