Fmr. Executive wants to start Airline in Sarasota - WRBL

Fmr. Executive wants to start Airline in Sarasota

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

A wealthy Sarasota retiree was tired of air travel options in Sarasota, so he decided to fix the problem the only way he knew how- he's starting his own airline.

Retired airline executive Steve Miller has lived a productive life.

He spent decades creating and running two airlines in Asia, including the very successful Dragonair. But when he decided to kick back and retire in Sarasota, he noticed something odd.

"Initially when I came here, I didn't even know that Sarasota had an airport," said Miller. "As [my wife and I] began to travel around North America, we found it was quite difficult to get to our destinations in the sort of time frame that we would like."

With airports in Tampa and Fort Myers, Miller says Sarasota locals are at a disadvantage. In addition to ticket prices, they have to pay for gas and parking to get to these distant airports.

So for a solution, he's starting Sunrise Airlines.

It's a proposed low cost carrier that would fly nationwide, right out of Sarasota.

"All nonstop, all at very competitive fares," said Miller.

Miller did studies to see where Sarasota travelers go, and in the first year, sunrise will fly to eight cities including Chicago and Newark, and by year three, the airline will expand to 24 cities across North America.

Miller is currently courting investors for $30 million dollars and he expects to be up in the air within the next 18 months.

"I've been through this process twice before. So I know where to find aircraft, people, and I know the regulatory process," said Miller.

He is not concerned about the big airlines.

"When I look at the other airlines around in America. I can't see where there are any airlines where we would be a direct threat to any one particular airline," said Miller.

"Their business model is the hub system. So they push people through their hubs, a hub in Atlanta, or Chicago or Charlotte or something, and in order to compete with us, they would have to operate nonstop out of Sarasota to the final destination."

Miller says the startup airline could create 400 jobs.

And he has long term plans to start international flights to Europe and Israel. 

Miller is a devout Christian, and the bible verse Malachi 4:2 was part of the inspiration for the name ‘Sunrise Airlines.'

"[The LORD] inspires the inspiration, the spiritual guidance, but he also provides the commercial opportunity," said Miller.

The president of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Rick Piccolo, has been working with Miller for more than a year on this project.

Piccolo says he feels confident in Miller's plan based on his prior experience.

Piccolo admits starting an airline is a difficult undertaking but he's hopeful ‘Sunrise Airlines' will be successful.

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