Passenger Traffic Up at Sarasota-Bradenton Airport

Passenger traffic at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport spiked almost 30 percent in May, and potential new carriers to the area are taking notice.

"They're starting to look at our size markets," said Fred Piccolo, CEO and executive director of the airport. "And they're looking at aircraft sized for our market that are smaller and more fuel efficient."

The December arrival of low-cost carrier AirTran Airways contributed to a 20 percent increase in airport traffic for the year.

Last month, 110,148 passengers went through the airport in contrast to 85,826 in May 2004. The increase was 28.3 percent.

AirTran's success in the market has stimulated interest from other airlines, which the airport has tried for years to woo, Piccolo said at an Airport Authority meeting Wednesday.

Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways are on Piccolo's wish list.

"Both are good possibilities for the future," he said. "It's certainly possible that by winter of 2005 or spring of 2006, they may come."

Piccolo and his staff make regular pilgrimages to sell the airport to potential new carriers.

"If you start hearing what you're saying coming back to you from the top echelons, it's a positive sign," he said.

But a lot depends on delivery of aircraft to those airlines, which have traditionally served larger markets such as Tampa, using aircraft larger than those suited for a market the size of Sarasota-Bradenton.

Piccolo said JetBlue is buying 100 Embraer 190s, a Brazilian plane with about 100 seats, that will allow access to smaller markets.

Currently, JetBlue planes serving larger markets seat around 165.

John Owen, executive vice president & chief financial officer of JetBlue, declined to comment.

AirTran is not alone in passenger increases.

Delta Airlines' traffic at Sarasota-Bradenton is up almost 19 percent for the year, according to airport data.

"AirTran's success here has shown there's a demand for low-cost carriers," Piccolo said. "There's a good chance they'll expand to one more city in the fall."