SRQ to Break Ground on New Terminal

Todays News

The Sarasota Bradenton Internal Airport breaks ground today on a terminal expansion adding five new gates. SRQ Airport CEO Rick Piccolo said the project will increase capacity for the once-tiny airport to serve as many as 7 million passengers a year.

An 11 a.m. event on Air Cargo Avenue kicks off the $71-million vertical construction phase, representing the most significant portion of the $100-million terminal project. This follows a three-year period when traffic to and from SRQ tripled, making it the fastest growing airport in America.

“I’ve been in airports for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Piccolo said.

Over a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility saw roughly 1.3 million passenger flights a year. But the airport in 2022 saw nearly 4 million passenger flights, and Piccolo believes it will see 4.5 million in 2023. That has all been in facilities built with a maximum imagined capacity about 3 million passengers a year.

The airport at the dawn of the pandemic hosted six airlines with nonstop flights to 12 destinations. Today, 11 airlines fly in and out of SRQ, heading to and from 55 nonstop destinations.

The primary purpose for the new terminal simply will be to serve the swelled growth already experienced by SRQ since 2020. Better scheduling software and the hiring of 100 additional staff in the last three years allowed the airport to serve more passengers, and extra gates, concessions and simple indoor space will ease the capacity issues that exist now.

But the efficiency improvements spurred by necessity make Piccolo confident the airport can do much more once extra facilities open. The airport will see $200 million in improvements in the next 18 to 24 months, including the new terminal, a $50-million baggage system and a series of other improvements. Once that work concludes, Piccolo expects airlines will want to add service and destinations in the next year.

Florida tourism saw a burst in visitation after the start of the pandemic when it began lifting lockdown restrictions ahead of tourism destinations. But growth at SRQ continued well past that. Piccolo attributes a number of factors.

One is tourists introduced to the Gulf Coast in 2021 who returned for repeat visits. Many even bought homes here, whether seasonal or permanent. “Out little secret is gone,” Piccolo said.

But the increase in road traffic between Sarasota and Tampa International Airport, the largest major airport, also made for longer car trips that have to be calculated into travel plans. While SRQ once bled a significant number of passengers to TIA, an increase in destinations from the local airport allowed more to choose to depart from here.

When the new terminal opens, it will be called Terminal A and have no connection to the existing terminals. Travelers going to the airport will stop at existing ticketing stations but then go to separate security checks depending which gate they use. Decisions have not been made as to which airlines will operate from the new gates.

But Piccolo is already thinking about the future. Plans already exist for another phase of construction adding three gates and connecting the terminals. That could cost $150 million to $200 million and happen in the next decade depending on growth.

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