Florida’s focus on leisure keeps air fares low; Southwest to add Panama City from May

The new Panama City-Bay County International Airport, due to be completed in May 2010, is the first international airport to be built in the US this decade. Florida’s airports handled around 140 million passengers last year, slightly more than all Italian airports.

For analysis purposes anna.aero treats Florida as if it were a country. After all the Sunshine State covers an area of some 170,000 square kilometres (compared to England at 130,000km2) and is the fourth most populated US state with just over 18 million inhabitants. Its airports handled around 140 million passengers last year, slightly more than all Italian airports. The top seven airports all catered for over five million annual passengers each and handled the vast majority of the state’s traffic.

Other notable airports handling at least one million annual passengers include Orlando Sanford, Pensacola and Sarasota/Bradenton. The airport serving the state capital of Tallahassee ranks only 11th in Florida with just 820,000 passengers in 2008. Other airports of interest include Daytona Beach (DAB), St Petersburg/Clearwater (PIE), Panama City (PFN), Melbourne (MLB) and Punta Gorda (PGD).

Chart: Florida airport traffic 2000-2008 - Annual passengers (millions)
Source: Airport websites

No dominant carrier except American at Miami

Last year, all of Florida’s major airports saw traffic fall with the exception of Miami. Miami is one of the leading US airports for international flights with more passengers travelling on US carriers on international services from the airport than any other in the US (Source: US BTS). Most Florida airports have a wide range of airlines, none of whom are particularly dominant. The exception is Miami where American Airlines has almost 70% of scheduled seat capacity, while all other US airlines have no more than 15% between themselves. The remaining 15% is shared out between over 30 foreign airlines, which are led by Avianca, TAM and LAN.

Chart: Florida airports - Airline share of scheduled seat capacity
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 9 November 2009

At Fort Lauderdale, the leading airline by schedule seat capacity is Spirit Airlines, which has 20% of scheduled seat capacity and operates non-stop to 36 destinations, including 24 which are outside of the US. However, these 24 routes represent less than 40% of the airline’s capacity at the airport. This week saw the airline start its fourth route to Colombia, when services to Armenia began.

Canadians and Brits love to visit

Widely copied, but not beaten: Florida’s unique tourist economy with the largest groups of foreign tourists being Canadian and British.

According to research by Visit Florida, the top international markets by number of Florida visitors in 2008 were Canada (2.9 million) and the UK (1.4 million). For a closer analysis of the development of the UK – Florida market during the last 20 years, see this week’s route analysis. The next biggest ‘country’ markets for visitors are South America, Germany, Australia and Japan. The excellent all-year round climate appeals to many golfers, who are attracted to the region by the numerous well-maintained courses. For families, there are well-established child-friendly tourist attractions such as Busch Gardens, Kennedy Space Center, SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World.

With Southwest serving Panama City’s brand new, larger airport from next year, the city’s 2011 Spring Break music festival (current attendance circa 170,000!!!) is likely to grow to a record size.

Leisure demand drives down average fares

Analysis of available fare data by the US DOT reveals that ten of the twelve busiest airports have average fares below the national average. In fact, during the second quarter of 2009, St Petersburg / Clearwater and Orlando Sanford had the lowest average air fares of any airports in the entire US. Allegiant Air is the dominant carrier at both of these airports. From St Petersburg, it currently offers low-frequency (typically twice-weekly) service to 20 destinations across the US, while from Sanford it serves 30 communities. Read more about Allegiant Air’s Florida operations in this week’s airline analysis.

Airport Average Fare
2009 Q2
Fare Premium
All Markets
Fare Premium
Fare Premium
Pensacola (PNS) $190 +10.7% +9.0% +11.6%
Miami (MIA) $178 +3.8% -7.6% +5.6%
West Palm Beach (PBI) $157 -1.8% -7.6% -1.2%
Jacksonville (JAX) $157 -2.4% -4.0% -1.3%
Fort Myers (RSW) $156 -6.5% 4.7% -7.0%
Sarasota (SRQ) $152 -7.6% -4.0% -8.1%
Tampa (TPA) $147 -8.8% -7.7% -9.0%
Orlando (MCO) $142 -11.6% -6.0% -12.3%
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) $143 -13.5% -19.9% -12.4%
Daytona Beach (DAB) $154 -17.6% -5.7% -21.1%
St Petersburg (PIE) $77 -52.6% -66.1% -44.0%
Sanford (SFB) $74 -54.3% -66.2% -46.3%
Source: US DOT Office of Aviation Analysis (2009 Q2)

Southwest to launch from new Panama City airport next May

Southwest recently announced that it would start services to the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in May 2010. This airport is a replacement for the Panama City – Bay County International Airport, which is severely constrained. A deal with a local property developer has enticed Southwest to commit to operating at least two daily flights to a minimum of four destinations when the airport opens next year. The airport serves the area known as the Florida Panhandle which is a major leisure destination with significant opportunities for growth.

Image: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport
Fredrick J. Piccolo, President & CEO of Sarasota Bradenton International, has been awarded Airport Revenue News’ Small Airport CEO of the Year. Piccolo (who witnesses report is not small at all at about 6 foot) was voted winner by 200 peers in the airports industry on the basis of “leadership, innovation, revenue generation, marketing, customer service and community service.”


  1. Mike says:

    Panama City International Airport? I keep up with airline related news in Florida but have yet to hear about this. Well looks like I’ll be expanding my airport shuttle service to Panama City.


  2. Vanni Gibertini says:

    “Excellent all-year round climate” is a bit generous. Florida in the summer months is very hot and humid, plus there is the risk of hurricanes. But some people may prefer it to Britain…

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