Elite Airways to Connect Pirates Fans to Gulf Coast



Pittsburgh Pirates fans now once again can fly direct from the home field in Pennsylvania to the spring training ground in Bradenton. Elite Airways on Friday announced that it would begin twice weekly flights between Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport starting in February.

“We’ve been working on this for six months, trying to get this destination,” says Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of SRQ Airport. He says direct flights between the cities existed in the past, from 1989 to 1997, but those flying between the cities for the past two decades were forced on connecting flights. Since then, PIT has risen to be one of the top 15 desired destinations for direct flights to SRQ.

Starting on Feb. 23, flights will begin between the cities on Mondays and Fridays, with a Bombardier CRJ flying out of SRQ at 9:30am to land in PIT at 12:15pm, and then leaving PIT at 1pm before landing back here at 3:45pm.

The destination proves important in growing Sarasota’s sports economy, largely thanks to the location of Pirates spring training and the presence of the Bradenton Marauders minor league team. Piccolo predicts that as Marauders players and staff get flown up to Pittsburgh even in summer months, the direct flights will prove valuable for the sports organization. And Pennsylvania officials also expect the route to prove useful in flying people from Pennsylvania to Florida. “I’m sure many Pittsburgh Pirates fans headed to spring training next year and people headed to the beach will be thrilled with a convenient nonstop flight right to the heart of their destination,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Piccolo notes that flights begin one day after the first flights between the destinations. But he also sees other potential for connecting the sports communities in Pittsburgh and here, noting he’s also talked with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Steelers about promotions and partnership.

Elliott Falcione, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director and a former salesperson for the Pirates, notes growing connections between the sister cities of Bradenton and Pittsburgh. “This new flight will no doubt be embraced with open arms by both cities and we applaud the efforts of Elite Airways expanding flights at SRQ to provide nonstop jet service to Pittsburgh, making it more convenient for people to enjoy all that our area offers, including world-renowned beaches and old Florida charm.”

Spring training impacts other parts of SRQ’s destination wish list as well, and Piccolo says success here may encourage an airline to offer service between Sarasota and Baltimore; Sarasota hosts the Orioles spring training. A number of existing flights between Atlanta and SRQ helped attract the Braves to move its spring training to Baltimore starting in 2019.

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