CLEARWATER — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport surpassed 1 million passengers in 2013 for the first time since 2004, building momentum that could attract Allegiant Air non-stop service to as many as six more cities and flights with new Airbus A320s.
“I think we will continue to see double digit growth in 2014,” Airport Director Noah Lagos said Thursday, after reporting a 17 percent increase to 1,017,049 passengers last year compared with 2012.
“If everything holds constant with our economy, I foresee Allegiant announcing four-to-six new cities in 2014 and a potential for flights out West and Mexico.”
Las Vegas-based Allegiant is the Pinellas airport’s busiest carrier, serving 31 non-stop destinations ranging in size from Columbus, Ohio, and Syracuse, N.Y., to Bangor, Maine, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Airbus aircraft are able to serve smaller airports with heavier loads than the McDonnell Douglas MD-80s that make up the majority of Allegiant’s fleet.
Lagos could not say what destinations the new aircraft might serve from Pinellas, but said they could be used either to expand current service or inaugurate new routes as early as the first quarter of the year.
Columbus, Ohio, is the only U.S. city in which the Pinellas airport and Tampa International Airport — which is expected to report about 17 million passengers in 2013 — compete directly. However Allegiant from Pinellas and Southwest Airlines from Tampa serve different airports in Columbus.
In addition to Allegiant, St. Pete Clearwater International is served by Vision Airlines flights to Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., and Sunwing Airlines flights to Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
However, Allegiant’s arrival in 2006 at the Pinellas airport and its subsequent growth has been the catalyst for a recovery from the loss of former mainstay ATA Airlines in early 2005.
The airport’s ridership declined from 1.3 million in 2004 to about 600,000 in 2005 and 390,000 in 2006. In addition, the airport’s service is evolving into year-round destinations from previous seasonal schedules.
That’s been enhanced by greater numbers of passengers from the Tampa Bay region originating flights, taking advantage of low-cost Allegiant service to the smaller destinations that otherwise must be reached by transfer flights out of Tampa.
While Pinellas and Hillsborough counties provide the majority of passengers, Lagos said the airport serves passengers from as far north as Ocala, east from Lakeland and south from Lee County.