Airline merger puts popular local flight in jeopardy

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Its being called one of the biggest mergers in airline history: American Airlines and U.S. Airways are joining forces.

They'll operate under the name American Airlines Group. However, it’s a move that will result in both airlines having to cut multiple flights throughout the country. And one of those routes in jeopardy is flies out of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

"We get 1.3 million passengers a year on this flight.” Congressman Vern Buchanan is among the group who uses the nonstop U.S. Airways flight from SRQ to Washington, DC. "We’re going to fight to keep this flight; it’s critically important to our community…in terms of economic development."

According to a study done by the Florida Department of Transportation, SRQ has a direct economic impact of more than $101 million, and more than a $433 million indirect impact.

Officials say losing the DC flight comes with other major implications as well. "As a small regional airport, we have a hard time holding on to our slots. We've seen the number of airlines decrease rapidly, and this flight is very important. All flights are but this flight particularly because it connects us to the nation’s capital," says Jack Rynerson of the airport authority.

The flight currently has a 93% fill rate, which is why many who use it on a regular basis say they need to have it continued. "We came from Washington…for a soccer tournament, and we're traveling with a small baby. So if we hadn't had the non-stop flight, it would have to do a layover in another airport and it would have taken twice as long," says passenger Kirk Leach.

The decision on whether to stop the SRQ-DC flight is expected before Christmas.