SARASOTA – Bradenton: Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is close to landing transatlantic flights to Germany. The first nonstop service to Europe from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport could be just over the horizon. A delegation of tourism leaders is in Frankfurt, Germany now lobbying Condor Airlines to arrange flights.
“What we’re talking about is service from March to October twice a week nonstop between here and Frankfurt,” said Frederick Piccolo, director for the airport.
Airport officials say it’s all part of an aggressive push forward in the tough economy, and it could bring big bucks to the Suncoast.
Currently SRQ doesn’t have any direct international flights, and airport officials say this could really beef up local and international business.
For the past four years, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport CEO Rick Piccolo has been working on landing a deal to bring German airline Condor (formerly known as Thomas Cook) to SRQ. ”Given the state of the economy, to have this opportunity finally come close to the finish line shows that we are raising our profile in the international market,” says Piccolo.
“Frankfurt has global connections around the world,” said Ray Alexander, owner of the Engel and Voelkers in Holmes Beach. “It would be very beneficial to us, but it is beneficial to Europeans as well.”
Alexander’s company is a branch of a German firm, and he has been working to generate local enthusiasm for nonstop service. Through the local ‘Operation Condor’ effort, he has secured marketing commitments from the Longboat Key Club and Resort, promotional offerings from Holiday Inn and a variety of other supportive gestures from businesses benefitting from international tourism.
Tourism leaders have touted SRQ’s proximity to some of America’s wealthiest communities. One of the top 10 most affluent zip codes in the U.S. is on Longboat Key, and another is in Bradenton.
Condor officials told Piccolo a decision will be made in August. The German airline announced nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale in May. If the airline decides to offer flights, permission must still be obtained from Customs and Borders Protection, but SRQ already has a customs office to handle flights from Canada.
If the deal goes through, Condor is planning to start year-round, twice a week Frankfurt-to-Sarasota (FRA-SRQ) flights in starting with the Summer schedule in May of 2011, bringing more than 700,000 people a year and more than $30 million to the Suncoast. ”It should help real estate interests as well as tourism,” says Piccolo. He says that the majority of those passengers would likely originate in Europe and come here. Frankfurt is also one of the major flight hubs for Europe, so a nonstop flight there means a connection to numerous other airports across the sea.
Currently Condor is offering special deals on long distance flights top several worldwide destinations starting at EUR 199 (approx. $250) each way including all taxes and fees. Condor uses Boeing 767 -300 for their transatlantic flights with 270 seats. This would be the largest aircraft regularly scheduled for SRQ.
“Bradenton- Sarasota is one of the nicest and most convenient airports in the world, the economy along the beautiful Suncoast will benefit in every way,” says Axel Weiss a German-American Real Estate Broker from Bradenton and Anna Maria Island.
And Piccolo has to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get enough inspectors for the flights, which could run more than a million dollars. ”We are hopeful we can break through and have some European service here.”
Axel Weiss finally concludes: “If you look at the Ft. Myers area and see how much business benefits from the international clientele, you see how important it is to get an European airline back to the Suncoast. Most people forget, Condor used to fly several times per week to Tampa until 2002. After that they targeted Orlando and Ft. Myers until 2008. Now we have a chance, to change that for the better – for SRQ!.”
SRQ will know if the deal will go through in the next few weeks. But if the deal falls through, SRQ officials say they’re going to target Canada.
(originally published in part at at http://www.yourobserver.com/news/sarasota/Front-Page/033120105385/New-airline-targets-SRQ and http://www.srqmagazine.com )