Tuesday’s airport incident highlights role of general aviation at SRQ

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 1:30 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - With all the news in recent months documenting the growth of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, the focus has been on commercial aviation; new airlines, new terminals, more parking.

But Tuesday’s belly-landing of a Beechcraft King Air that shut down the airport’s main runway for more than two hours is a reminder that general aviation -- ranging from privately owned Cessna 150s to corporate Gulfstream jets -- is an important part of the airport’s success.

“General aviation is still a big part of business,” said Rick Piccolo, the airport’s president and CEO told ABC7.

SRQ logged 108,675 general aviation flights in 2021, according to data on the airport’s website. That’s more than double the 45,679 commercial flights in the same time period, and it’s a 25% increase over 2020.

As general aviation grows, so will the infrastructure that supports it.

General aviation at SRQ is served by two companies, called fixed base operators, or FBOs, who provide fuel, maintenance, hangers and catering, as well as aircraft rental and flight instruction.

At last month’s meeting, the Sarasota Bradenton Airport Authority approved the addition of a third FBO, which will make a $30 million investment to the airport, Piccolo said.

The airport also leases 162 single-plane hangers for private aircraft.

Tuesday’s incident shut down nearly all commercial traffic for several hours. The twin-engine turboprop experienced mechanical issues and was forced to land on the runway with the landing gear retracted. The pilot, the only person aboard the aircraft was not injured.

The incident shut down SRQ’s main 9,500-foot runway for two and a half hours, Piccolo said, causing delays for commercial flights. The King Air had to be removed and the runway had to be inspected and cleared of debris before it could reopen.

Most airlines use larger aircraft that must use the longer runway, which runs northwest to southeast. Smaller aircraft can, depending on wind conditions, use a shorter, 5,000-foot runway that runs southwest to northeast.

In addition to several departing flights that were delayed, four arriving flights on Tuesday were diverted to other airports to wait until SRQ’s runway was reopened, Piccolo said.

Two airlines using smaller Embrarer commuter aircraft were able to use the shorter, 5,000-foot runway to land Tuesday afternoon.

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