St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport continues to thrive
By Ted Jackovics | Tribune StaffST. PETERSBURG - Marie-Joseé Dionne and Mélissa Leroux leisurely munched on bagels at a St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport café, just an hour before their flight to Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Published: January 10, 2013
Published: January 10, 2013
Unlike the hectic experience many have at airports, the two were still in vacation mode as their Florida vacation dwindled to an end.
What's more, they each saved $250 by using the small Pinellas County and upstate New York airports rather than flights between Montreal — their final destination — and Tampa International Airport.
"I love it," Dionne said before her Wednesday flight from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International. "Everything is just faster and cheaper."
Passengers looking for those traits have helped keep the airport growing. Despite the nationwide trend in recent years of small airports losing service as carriers trim flights to save costs, the Pinellas airport continues to gain traffic while operating in the shadow of Tampa International Airport, just eight miles to the east.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International is expected to report a 5 percent annual gain in traffic in 2012 to 860,000 passengers once final figures are reported. Conservative projections for 2013 range from 925,000 to 950,000 passengers.
Part of that growth comes courtesy of Allegiant Air, which is expected to convert its aircraft to hold more passengers and to add an airplane to be based at the Pinellas airport. Airport Director Noah Lagos also attributes the growth in traffic to the ease and convenience the airport offers passengers.
Until the dawn of the commercial jet age in the late 1950s and early 1960s, major commercial airlines such as Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines, National Airlines and Northwest Orient Airlines served both TIA and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International.
In 1960, National even offered a $4.65, 10-minute hop between the two airports on a four-engine Electra flight that continued to Jacksonville and New York.
When Tampa built an innovative, world-class terminal in 1971, the differences between the two airports became more pronounced. Today, TIA handles more passengers in any month than St. Petersburg-Clearwater International does in a year.
The two airports in recent decades have not viewed each other as direct competition, but Pinellas elected officials are attentive to operations at their county-owned facility.
"Frankly, we fish in a small pond," Lagos said in a newsletter. "The reality is most major airlines are located at Tampa International. Therefore we tend to focus on smaller or new entrant airlines or international service not serving our area."
Allegiant has assumed the role of the mainstay airline in Pinellas, starting in November 2006 with 12 nonstop destinations and expanding to 24 airports today.
While serving destinations from Pinellas that are not served nonstop from Tampa, Allegiant also benefits by competing with high fees Canadian airports charge their carriers with its lower-cost flights from Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, N.Y.
"Allegiant's staff is accessible, responsive and open to input in choosing new markets," said Jeff Clauss, director of air service development and marketing at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International.