SRQ expansion projects reflect exceptional growth
The earliest known record of the phrase “patience is a virtue” is found in “Piers Plowman,” a narrative poem believed to have been written by William Langland between 1360 and 1387. The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is arguably the fastest growing airport in the world. . While this has been a tremendous development for the community and the airport, it brings significant challenges that cannot be resolved overnight; hence the reference to this famous expression.
To illustrate the growth in the pre-pandemic calendar year 2019, the airport had 1,828,170 total seats inside and outside the airport. At that time, SRQ was the fastest growing airport in the United States with a growth rate of 43% that year. During the year 2021, the airport has 4,610,353 seats already stolen or sold in airline reservation computer systems, an increase of 152% compared to the figures before the pandemic. In June, the airport set an all-time high monthly record with more than 312,000 passengers.
We are well positioned to meet this challenge. Our finances are good and many infrastructure renovations are being done. The airport took proactive steps in early 2021, such as tripling the fuel capacity of our airlines, expanding parking lots, building additional security checkpoints and adding staff to manage growth. Since the airport was poorly served, with vacant gates and counters, the impacts to the passenger so far have been minimal.
That’s not to say that there aren’t days when equipment breakdowns or staffing issues don’t arise or affect service delivery. The aforementioned measures have helped, but more needs to be done to maintain the level of passenger service our users have come to expect.
Airport authority, security screening service provider, concierge service company, food and beverage stores, retail stores, and airline ground handling companies are all looking for more staff to meet demand. If you are looking for a job in a dynamic and growing industry, I encourage you to look at the airport. Due to these staffing requirements, queues for security, baggage delivery or catering services may be a little longer than normal. I encourage passengers to get to the airport at least 90 minutes before their flight to ensure that you can complete the check-in and screening process if you are experiencing a peak time at the airport.
Other parking lots should be online by November. Additional parking beyond the recent expansion is needed as there are days when our long term lot fills up and people have to use our shade or short term lots. We are working with the Transportation Security Administration to add additional baggage screening machines and staff in time for the winter season.
The Airport Authority has added more baggage staff to move baggage to auxiliary machines whenever needed. A major baggage screening replacement project is under development and hopefully can be implemented by 2023.
The terminal expansion is in the initial design stage and we are working on setting up a financing and construction program which could be completed within two years and which will add 5 to 8 doors, with additional space. ticket office and baggage claim. A new consolidated rental car maintenance and storage facility is also being designed and is expected to begin construction within 12 months. A new ground transportation facility is being designed and construction will begin soon.
We ask our users for patience during this extension. These projects are expected to cause inconvenience and disruption at times over the next two years. We hope that when completed, the improvements will not only meet increased demand, but also manage some future growth.
Air travel has often been considered a chore due to safety requirements, restricted seating on planes, and recently pandemic regulations such as masks and quarantine requirements depending on your destination. Our airport has always enjoyed a reputation for a more convenient and easy-going experience. This unprecedented growth will challenge us all, and we are working hard to meet this challenge.
In the meantime, I hope that our residents and users will understand and remember that “patience is a virtue”.
Rick Piccolo has been President and CEO of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport since 1995 and serves on various international aviation, business and charitable boards. He can be contacted at [email protected]