St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport celebrates a record May. Officials estimate as many as 1.2 million will fly in or out of the local airport this year.
CLEARWATER – Passenger travel is setting records at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.
Airport officials are celebrating the biggest May in history with a 27 percent increase in passengers and a 21 percent increase so far in 2014.
“May was a month of history. It outpaced any other May,” Airport Director Noah Lagos told Pinellas County Commissioners during a June 10 budget work session.
The past record for May was set in 2004, with 34 fewer passengers than2014.
More than a million passengers used Pinellas County’s airport last year, up 21 percent from 2012. Thus far, this year’s monthly passenger counts are well outpacing last year. Lagos expects passenger travel will reach as high as 1.2 million by the end of the year.
St. Pete-Clearwater International, aka PIE, added a new charter service June 8 with Sun Country Airlines providing flights to Beau Rivage Resort & Casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Allegiant Air, the airport’s primary carrier, now flies non-stop from PIE to 32 destinations. Sunwing Airlines offers two international flights, bringing the number of non-stop flights originating from PIE to 35.
Allegiant Air carries nearly 95 percent of the airport’s passengers, with Sun Country adding another 5 percent. Sunwing provides seasonal service to Toronto and Halifax Canada and accounts for less than 1 percent of passengers.
Another new service begins Aug. 28 from PEOPLExpress flying to Newport News/Williamsburg Virginia.
“Growing pains are a wonderful thing,” Lagos told commissioners, as he began to explain plans for about $65 million in capital improvement projects over the next five to six years.
“The parking lot is full and we eventually will need more to support that growth,” Lagos added.
Phase II of the terminal improvement project continues on a “pay as you go” basis. A $4.5 million project is underway and scheduled for completion by April 2015. It includes expanding the chilled water lines for the HVAC system, roofing improvements and fire alarm upgrades.
Improvements of public address and flight information display systems started this month. Completion date is March 2015. Cost is $757,630. Lagos said the new public address system will allow voice paging using ambient microphones that adjust to background volumes.
Construction of an automated exit lane control system, with a price tag of $417,417 also began this month. The project is scheduled to be finished by October. Lagos said the Terminal Security Administration would not be staffing the exit lanes. Instead, the cost would be passed to the airlines.
The Florida Department of Transportation is paying 50 percent of the project. Lagos said the Federal Aviation Administration had first ruled that the project was ineligible for funding. Lagos appealed that decision. He said it seems likely that the FAA will rule in PIE’s favor in the future.
Phase III of terminal improvements is scheduled to begin in 2015. Design of the $6 million project should start in June 2015 with a projected completion date of January 2017. The project includes work on gates seven through 10. More seating will be added, as well and new concession and restaurant facilities.
“It’s time to resurface all the taxiways,” Lagos said.
Phase I of a $12.4 million taxiway rehabilitation project is scheduled to begin in October. The project should be finished by January 2016. Phase II is slated to begin with the design phase in March 2015 and be complete in January 2017.
The master stormwater management plan with an estimated cost of $1 million is out to bid now, he said. Construction is scheduled to begin in August with a completion date of January 2015.
Tourism also on the upswing
PIE’s biggest month thus far for 2014 was March with 131,031 passengers. March also set a record for the number of overnight visitors coming to Pinellas County, according to a report by Research Data Services Inc. of Tampa.
The report, prepared for Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater and the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council, showed that nearly 75 percent of those visiting the county in March took a plane with nearly 77 percent using Tampa International, aka TIA, and about 10 percent flying into PIE. In 2013, 75 percent used TIA and 7 percent used PIE. The remainder flew into the Orlando International/Sanford or Miami/Fort Lauderdale airports.
Visitors spent approximately $522.7 million, up 4.9 percent from March 2013.
Bed Tax collections also are on the rise. In March, the Pinellas County Tax Collector reported more than $5.4 million in bed taxes. Collections for the same month in 2013 were just over $5 million.
In April, more than $3.8 million was collected compared to just over $3.1 million last year. May’s report is not yet available. January and February reports show similar increases.
Pinellas County set a new bed tax record for 2013, collecting more than $31 million. The $30 million level is a significant milestone because it elevates the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area to what the state recognizes as a "high impact tourism" county, making it eligible for the addition of a sixth cent to the five currently imposed on transient lodging countywide, said Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater Executive Director D.T. Minich.
The bed tax revenue is used for tourism marketing, beach restoration, bonds on area sports stadiums and other tourism-related initiatives.