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SRQ President talks latest airport news

CAROL ERKER
Guest Writer
Erker@lbknews.com

“When you’re ready…We’re ready” is the new ad slogan for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (“SRQ”).

Fredrick “Rick” J. Piccolo, President and CEO of SRQ, addressed the members of the Rotary Club of Longboat Key at their September 1 meeting on Zoom to share his take on the airport’s readiness.

Piccolo has an impressive 48+ years of experience in the aviation industry, starting as a young janitor at the Buffalo International Airport and serving in numerous positions in the industry over the years at other airports (including Tampa International and St. Petersburg) before assuming his position at SRQ in 1995.

Piccolo was proud to report that SRQ was the fastest-growing airport in the United States before the pandemic hit this spring causing air travel to plummet. Passenger traffic at SRQ in February 2020 was 232,549; in April, traffic was only 9,742. The airport is now back to about 42% of the volume that would be expected for this time of year.

Piccolo outlined the extensive safety practices that have been implemented in the past 6 months by the airlines operating at SRQ, including requiring face masks for all passengers and crew, distribution of safety/sanitation kits to passengers, tremendous cleaning efforts between flights and overnight, frequent cleaning of all touch points, and enhanced air filtration that exchanges the cabin air every 3 to 4 minutes using hospital grade HEPA filters.

Steps have been implemented to reduce physical contact at TSA checkpoints. “The airport has been up to speed pretty quick,” according to Piccolo, with 90 “sneeze shields” installed at counters, more than a dozen touchless hand-sanitizer stations, two temperature screening kiosks, touchless amenities in restrooms, queuing line markers, frequent public-service announcements, and a doubling of the airport’s janitorial contract. Work has been accelerated to implement biometric and Bluetooth connected touchless check-in and boarding processes, including e-mailed bag tags and completely self-service bag check-in.

With an annual operating budget of $23 million and substantial reserves, the airport is debt-free and financially self-sufficient through business operations, receiving no tax dollars. A Florida Department of Transportation study showed that the airport has an annual economic impact of over $962 million on the community, with over 11,000 jobs derived from airport activities. Even with the impact of the pandemic, SRQ did not lay-off any workers; non-essential overtime was cut, “early out” packages were offered to workers aged 64 and older (with medical benefits continued for one year), and there was a 6.8% drop in the number of workers through attrition.

Piccolo closed his presentation with a brief mention of two very exciting projects. As revealed in an August 31st article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority is in a partnership with the FL Department of Economic Opportunity, Manatee County Technical School, and the Manatee County School Board with plans to build an Airframe & Powerplant school and hangar facility at SRQ.

This facility would offer post-secondary students the ability to get their FAA-certified mechanics license and would create an on-going pipeline of talent. The second project is the Airport Authority’s work with the Team Success charter school in Manatee County to establish a K-through-12 SRQ campus with an aeronautical emphasis, to be located across the airfield on airport property. This would be the first school of its kind anywhere in the United States.

After hearing Piccolo’s presentation, many Rotarians were feeling closer to “ready” to fly.

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