Could Southwest Airlines be flying into Sarasota?
Airport officials certainly hope so, and they've started conversations to try to land the major carrier.
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport could always use some more business. A recent MIT report says between 2007 and 2012, there were 38% fewer departures. One big reason was the loss of Air Tran. After it was purchased by Southwest Airlines, the carrier stopped servicing Sarasota last year.
Airport CEO Rick Piccolo said, "We're making progress, it was a very big setback when we lost AirTran, they were a third of our business."
Piccolo spends a lot of time talking to airlines, and in January he started conversations again with southwest, hoping to bring them in.
Piccolo said, "We've opened up communication, but we're not into any discussions about when they would reestablish service and if they would reestablish service."
But he says it's a step in that direction, and the airport is suited for it.
Sarasota passenger Kelly Glynn said this could really be a great partnership. She said, "Sarasota is a pretty good airport, and it might offer a lot more travel options for other people who like Southwest but don't currently come here."
Piccolo says one big selling point is the main terminal. It will be paid off next year, meaning the airport will be debt-free.
"There's not many airports in the country that I know of that have built essentially a new facility, without incurring a tremendous amount of debt that has to be built into the rates to their airline partners. We don't have that anymore," said Piccolo.
Southwest Airlines, for its part, is downplaying expectations, saying in a statement: "We are constantly talking to airports around the country that we don't currently serve to gather information and build relationships…we don't have any plans to announce new service in the near future."
The local attractions also play a big role in luring airlines in.
The city of Sarasota is currently working on a world-class rowing facility to host international competitions, and the airport CEO says that's one talking point he uses to entice airlines.
"I'm optimistic that we can compete very well [to bring in Southwest]," said Piccolo.
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