Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Merger's Meaning to Srq? Time Will Tell

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Merger's Meaning to Srq? Time Will Tell

Article excerpt

SARASOTA-BRADENTON INTERNATIONAL: It will likely be several months before officials know if combining US Airways and American Airlines benefits the region's airport and its fliers, or detracts from service.

The American Airlines-US Airways merger slated to occur next month will inevitably bring change to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

Whether that change results in significantly improved service or fewer flights and options for consumers, though, won't be known until new schedules are unveiled sometime in 2014.

Industry analysts believe, however, that survivor airline American will add flights locally to Dallas-Fort Worth, a hub as central to the American route system as Atlanta is to competitor Delta Air Lines.

US Airways' existing round-trips into its hub in Charlotte, N.C., meanwhile, are likely to be left alone or expanded. US Airways currently accounts for 20 percent of Sarasota-Bradenton's passenger counts.

One local route that might be in jeopardy, though, is a daily round-trip US Airways runs to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. That flight could hit turbulence because of the way the Justice Department structured a deal that allows the merger to proceed.

Overall, industry analysts contend the merger will ultimately result in more, and better, connections to hub airports, though the full extent of changes may not be known until next November.

Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority CEO Fredrick "Rick" Piccolo said Thursday he hopes to retain existing service, layer on new flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago's O'Hare International and Miami International.

"I am looking at what can we get in the fall of 2014," said Piccolo.

Dallas and Miami are the most important of the three goals, as the local airport already has service to Chicago via United Airlines flights.

"We don't have anything getting us to the south at all, whether it is South Florida, South America or the Caribbean, and we don't have anything going directly west," said Piccolo. "To go directly west, we haven't had that since Houston was served by Continental." That service ended in 2008.

Mixed bag

Michael Boyd, a principal at the Boyd Group International airline consultancy in Evergreen, Colo., who has worked for Sarasota- Bradenton, believes the merger could be a mixed bag for the region's airport.

"This is ready-made traffic for American, heading west," Boyd said. He adds, however, that the Reagan National flight may become a casualty of the corporate pairing. The two carriers have indicated that Sarasota-Bradenton will not lose a carrier in the deal, and that Charlotte service could be enhanced. But Sarasota-Bradenton does not have a good track record when it comes to airline mergers. The most recent -- and notable -- example gained form in early 2012, when Southwest Airlines announced that AirTran Airways, which it had acquired, would cease local service in August 2012. …

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