Recently, I was fortunate enough to travel with a group of area journalists aboard the first nonstop flight of Swiss-based Edelweiss Air from Tampa (the city with the world’s sixth most-loved airport, according to CNNgo.com) to Zurich (home of the world’s seventh most-loved airport, according to the same survey). This inaugural flight from TIA to Switzerland was accompanied by much hoopla: The projected economic impact of Edelweiss’ new service is $31.6 million, and an estimated 265 new jobs will be created in association with the flights, which depart and arrive twice a week during the summer and once a week during the winter.
The chance to fly direct on the Edelweiss AirbusA330 (in business class, yet), was a distinct improvement over the usual international travel hassle of changing planes in Atlanta or elsewhere. The 9 ½-hour flight to Zurich was comfortable and smooth; getting in and out of customs at both ends a breeze. And for the many Tampa Bay area business groups that pooled together $700,000 in incentives to entice Edelweiss here—marking the first new TIA flights to Europe in 15 years—the moment was long-awaited.
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport has only one international flight—a seasonal one to Toronto. Airport officials tried a few years ago to bring an airline (Condor) to Sarasota with twice-weekly flights to and from Frankfurt, Germany, and came close to bagging the estimated 30,000 visitors or so a year. But in the end, Condor chose Fort Lauderdale, largely because of its cruise line connections.
Tampa and Orlando airports are our chief competition for international flights, along with Southwest Florida International Airport, 90 minutes away in Fort Myers, which has a handful of international fights to Canada and Germany. The proximity of all those airports has hindered our chances of snagging an international carrier.
So where do things stand right now when it comes to luring an international carrier to SRQ? According to director of development and community relations Michael Walley, our local airport is both “pursuing growth from Canada” and continuing to seek opportunities flying in and out of Europe, especially in countries where the citizens tend to purchase second homes in Southwest Florida, like Germany and the United Kingdom. Scandinavia, which is not on the troubled euro currency, is a potential destination as well, because its citizens tend to learn English at a young age and want to come here on holiday.
For Europeans flying into TIA, the city of Tampa is not usually their real destination; they’re more likely, Walley says, to rent a car and head to the beaches (like ours) and/or Orlando’s theme parks. Theoretically, then, our position in the middle of the Southwest Florida corridor should make us more appealing than landing in Tampa for anyone wanting to head south.
Sadly, jetting off directly to Europe from SRQ is not right around the corner. In the meantime, you can continue to travel to Europe from SRQ—you just have to stop somewhere on the way.