Leading Question

By Beth Luberecki March 31, 2010

The short answer is: There isn’t one.

The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) doesn’t offer any direct flights to Tallahassee, or any other Florida cities for that matter. “The problem is that on short flights, the cost pretty well exceeds the revenue stream,” says Michael Walley, director of development and community relations for SRQ. “There is demand, but for short-haul flights we have competition with the highways.”

Local travelers can fly from SRQ to Atlanta, then pick up a flight to Tallahassee. Or they can drive to the Tampa International Airport (TPA), which offers nonstop flights to Tallahassee on Continental Express. “TPA probably has the most flights in the state to Tallahassee because of our business market,” says Brenda S. Geoghagan, TPA’s director of public information and community relations. “We average between four to six flights daily, and Continental increases its frequency during the winter and spring months.”

Chartering a flight to Tallahassee cuts down significantly on travel time, but it can cost a lot more than a commercial flight. Jet Share U.S. can fly passengers to the state capital on an eight-passenger King Air turboprop plane for about $3,600. Total flight time is about an hour, and the plane leaves from Rectrix Aviation, a fixed-base operator at SRQ. The cost includes a morning departure, a full day on the ground in Tallahassee, and a return flight later that day. Opt for a jet instead, and the price roughly doubles.

Rectrix Aviation recently acquired New World Jet Corporation and is exploring the possibility of operating some intrastate flights, including ones that would connect Sarasota to Tallahassee. “It’s something that really intrigues us,” says Richard Cawley, CEO of Rectrix Aviation. “We do have a lot of business that flies out of Rectrix where individuals charter an aircraft to go to Tallahassee. It’s an interesting market.” If those flights take off, they’d leave either from the local Rectrix facility or SRQ’s main terminal, depending on the size of the aircraft used.

The charter option can work well for groups who might be lobbying on a certain issue or heading to a special legislative session. “It depends on the type of aircraft and how many people are going,” says Cawley. “But when it works, when it can be very cost effective, is when you have four or five guys going up [to Tallahassee] on business who leave at eight in the morning and come back later that day.”

Of course, some businesspeople bypass the skies altogether and just hit the road for the whole trip, which is about 330 miles from the Sarasota area. “It’s a long drive, but I do the drive,” says Herb Lustig, president and CEO of Sarasota-based LCX Systems, who travels to Tallahassee a couple of times a year. “I’ll drive I-75 all the way up. It’s the fastest way, though perhaps not the shortest [miles-wise].”

Legislators must make the trip more frequently, of course. With tickets costing almost $400 round-trip from Tampa to Tallahassee, our nine local state legislators could spend up to $3,600 a week from their expense accounts if they all flew out of Tampa once a week during the two-month session and then returned home on the weekend.

Sen. Nancy Detert usually drives the 300-plus miles from Tallahassee to Venice and is reimbursed 45 cents a mile. “I wore out two cars and got carpal tunnel syndrome from all the driving,” she quips about making the five-hour drive back and forth during her eight years as state representative. Occasionally she travels with Sen. Mike Bennett and two other legislators on a small charter plane from Dolphin Aviation at SRQ.

“It’s a tiny plane,” she says. “Believe me, most people wouldn’t have the guts to get in. When I get on, I just figure, well, I’ve had a good life.”


Tampa International Airport

(TPA) to Tallahassee (TLH):  $395

Sarasota Bradenton

International Airport

(SRQ) to Atlanta (ATL)

to Tallahassee (TLH): $678

Jet Share U.S.: $3,600


King Air turboprop)

*April 4-April 9, 2010,  using

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