Pinellas County welcomes new five-year agreement with Allegiant Air

An Allegiant plane takes off from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. The county commission approved a new five-year agreement with the airline, which has provided service at the airport since 2006 and now offers nonstop flights to 55 destinations.

CLEARWATER — Allegiant Air is continuing its relationship with St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport for at least five more years.

The Pinellas County Commission approved a new operating and use agreement with Allegiant on Sept. 24 for fiscal years 2020-2024. Officials estimate that the agreement will provide the airport, aka PIE, with about $14.2 million in revenue, which is a 49.5% increase over the 2014-2019 agreement valued at about $9.5 million.

PIE charges Allegiant for office space, ticket counters, landing fees, passenger screening, terminal facility fees, loading bridge fees, as well as fees when aircraft remain at the airport overnight.

Airport Director Tom Jewsbury pointed out that the new agreement provides a “significant increase” in value. He also said that due to the increased growth in passenger traffic, the airport provides about $1 billion in annual economic impact to the county. As of September, more than 1.8 million passengers have used through the airport and traffic is up 2% over last year’s count.

Allegiant is currently investing $4 million to construct a new airline support facility at PIE to accommodate existing and future operational needs.

Allegiant began operations at PIE in November 2006. At that time, the airline used two aircraft to service 12 nonstop routes for 668,000 annual passengers. In 2018, Allegiant transported more than 2.2 million passengers and now serves 55 nonstop destinations, which represents a 358% increase in destinations over a 12-year period.

Allegiant is continuing to add destinations, including a nonstop flight to State College, Pennsylvania, starting Oct. 16, and to Traverse City, Michigan on Oct. 18. Jewsbury said all signs point to continued growth. He said Allegiant is currently working toward adding international destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Jewsbury also said the airport does have room for additional flights and airlines and is in continued discussions with other airlines about providing service out of Pinellas County.

Grant money accepted

Commissioners unanimously approved a $4.5 million Public Transportation Grant agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to help pay for rehabilitation of the airport’s terminal parking apron and conversion of an unused runway to a taxiway.

According to staff notes, three aircraft parking positions on the west side of the terminal parking apron need to be strengthened to accommodate airline or cargo aircraft. In addition, a runway that is no longer in service needs to be converted to a taxiway that will accommodate Group IV aircraft.

FAA-defined grouping of aircraft types has six groups based on wingspan and tail height. Group IV includes aircraft such as Airbus A319s/320s or Boeing 737s that currently serve PIE.

Estimated cost for the projects is $9 million. The grant will pay for half and the airport will pay the remainder.

Staff says the rehabilitated parking apron and new taxiway will accommodate future rehabilitation of the terminal building to the north.

Commissioners also gave approval to staff’s request to use $8 million in grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration Entitlement Funds and another $11.6 million in FAA Discretionary Funds to pay for a runway rehabilitation project. The airport will contribute another $3.4 million from its Capital Improvement Plan budget to pay for the $24 million total cost.

Runway 18-36 is PIE’s primary runway and is in need of asphalt pavement rehabilitation due to weathering and cracking. Jewsbury said the work, which will be done in three phases, should be completed by January 2021.

Staff asked to defer its recommendation to award a $22.5 million contract to Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC for the runway 18-36 rehabilitation design and construction, and extension of Runway 4-22 until after the FAA grant was executed. Commissioners approved the contract on the Oct. 8. Staff estimates that the work should be done within 448 conservative calendar days.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.