Sarasota Bradenton International Airport soaring despite COVID

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport soaring despite COVID
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is seeing a large number of air travelers, far outperforming the national average. - Submitted

SARASOTA – While many of the nation’s airports are seeing a small to moderate rebound after last year’s record low air travel numbers due to COVID-19, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is experiencing something entirely different.

SRQ Chief Operating Officer Mark Stuckey addressed the Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s monthly meeting last week to give an update on how the airport is performing.

“As we see this vaccine roll out, it’s making a huge difference in the number of passengers flying, and also the load factors on the aircraft. We’re a little different than a lot of airports across the United States; we’re recovering much faster. This is partly due to our geographic location, partly due to the governor’s open for business policy, and also the added service by Southwest Airlines makes a big difference,” Stuckey said.

Fitch ratings, one of the three nationally-recognized statistical rating organizations designated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, recently projected the nationwide recovery for airlines probably won’t happen until the fourth quarter of 2023, or possibly well into 2025. According to Stuckey, that is not the case at SRQ.

“SRQ Airport is not only 100% recovered, but we are breaking all-time records in the history of the airport for the month of March,” Stuckey said, reiterating how much the addition of Southwest Airlines flights has spurred growth. The airport saw 277,000 passengers in the month of March, and, according to Stuckey, they are on track to have 350,000 in April. The numbers are higher than the pre-COVID 2019 statistics.

One of the ways of measuring the number of air travelers at any airport is the TSA Checkpoint Throughput. Nationally, the Throughput data shows an average of 60% of the volume compared to two years ago. At SRQ, that number is in excess of 100%. Since Southwest began service at SRQ on Feb. 14, they have already increased service to 11 destinations and have two priority gates. As Southwest and other airlines such as Allegiant continue to expand to more destinations, these numbers will continue to grow.

Stuckey also pointed out that Delta, one of the nation’s largest carriers, is still blocking middle seats, meaning that 33% of each plane’s capacity is currently not being used. This will be lifted on May 1, which will further increase the number of arrivals and departures from SRQ.