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Airport rebound unlikely until fall

No new airline service is expected in mid-Pinellas until at least October.

Published March 30, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The executive director of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport said Monday that it will be at least October until the facility can attract new airline service to replace some of what has been lost since December.

"With the industry in terrible shape, it's hard to sell any of the airlines on adding service to a new market," Noah Lagos told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, adding that at this time of year, there also is no incentive for an airline to stop in Pinellas County.

"May is flat (for business), it picks up some in the summer, but then September is flat again," he said. "We may not have any announcements of new service until fall."

Without naming names, Lagos said he was in contact with 10 domestic carriers about adding St. Pete-Clearwater routes, and two international carriers have expressed interest once the main runway is extended. The extension is in its design phase.

As of April 10, when Indianapolis-based carrier ATA pulls out, the mid-Pinellas airport will have lost nearly 80 percent of its commercial airline service.

After the airport posted an all-time passenger record of 1.33-million in 2004, the decline began Dec. 1 when the public charter, Southeast Airlines, went out of business. That was followed by the ATA announcement in January. And earlier this month, the Montreal-based carrier, Jetsgo, ceased flying.

The situation has prompted questions about whether the airport should simply be closed and the land sold for a shopping mall or condominiums. Lagos said that could not happen.

"The county has accepted federal grant money, and even if it were willing to pay back $37-million, the (Federal Aviation Administration) won't permit the closure," Lagos said. "There are too many federal strings attached. The airport isn't going away."

[Last modified March 30, 2005, 01:03:17]

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