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    Pinellas airport’s tally of passengers dropping

    November, however, was a good month. The airport director hopes that will lead to an improvement in upcoming counts.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


    Although tourism continues to rise in Pinellas County, fewer visitors are flying into St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

    For the second year in a row, the number of airline passengers there has decreased.

    Airport director David Metz attributes the decline to a reduction in scheduled commercial flights. During the past two years, American Trans Air, the airport's dominant carrier, has dropped some of its flights to Pinellas County, he said.

    "From an economic standpoint, it's critical for us to keep on top, and that means we've got to do a little bit more business development," said interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster.

    Metz said the airport needs to strengthen relationships with its existing carriers. He said it also is looking for new opportunities to expand passenger service. Plans include updating all of the airport's marketing materials and selling the facility at trade shows across the country.

    Though the numbers are down, they should start to rise, Metz said. Last month, Indianapolis-based ATA added two daily flights to its schedule, he said.

    And in October, Largo-based Southeast Airlines began service to Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta.

    "November was a good month for us," Metz said, adding that the number of passengers for the month was up 12 percent from November 1999. Metz projects 740,000 passengers will use the airport by the end of 2000. 1999's year-end total was 791,973.

    Both figures pale in comparison to 1998, when 912,938 passengers used St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. In 1995, the airport's record year, 1,086,051 passengers were counted.

    According to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 4.4-million tourists visited Pinellas County in 1998 and 4.54-million in 1999, about a 3 percent increase. In 1998, nearly 52 percent of those who flew used Tampa International Airport, while 8.6 percent used St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. In 1999, 55 percent used the Tampa airport and 7.2 percent used the airport in Pinellas County.

    And although the numbers are down at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International, business is up at Tampa International, which services 26 carriers compared to St. Petersburg-Clearwater's six airlines.

    Passengers at TIA in 1999 totaled 15,122,326, a 9.34 percent increase from 1998, said TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan. The number of passengers through October 2000 is 13,366,355, a 6.5 percent increase from the same period last year.

    The cities served directly by planes from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport are Charlotte, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Gulfport, Miss.

    Metz said that although scheduled flights are the mainstay of the airport, its operation also relies on charter flights, especially international flights. "That's been an area of growth for us," he said.

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