CLEARWATER — First came the rebranding. Now it's time for St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to focus on a new contract with its dominant carrier and new routes to new cities.
The airport's contract with Allegiant Air is up in November, and airport director Noah Lagos will start talks on a new deal with the carrier later this month when the airline holds its annual airports conference Feb. 26-March 1 in Mesa, Ariz.
When Lagos discusses a new contract with airline officials, he'll also be broaching the subject of new routes, a priority for any airport. However, it's all up to Allegiant, which provides 90 percent of the flights to St. Pete-Clearwater International.
"The goal in going out there is to talk to them about anything that might affect our partnership in the future," Lagos said, "and to talk about the possibility of new cities we're interested in. We just want to start the dialogue about creating a new agreement."
Lagos wouldn't show his hand just yet but did mention that establishing a route to Asheville, N.C., will be a priority. The Smoky Mountains are a popular destination for Tampa Bay residents, Lagos said. The airport already has flights to Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., and Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area in Tennessee.
The airport offers incentives for new routes: $25,000 to market each new route, for a maximum of $75,000 for three routes; and no airport fees for two years for each new route.
The airport on Tuesday unveiled its new blue-and-green logo, which emphasizes its airport code (PIE) and its focus on leisure travel. The new slogan: "Tampa Bay the Easy Way."
St. Pete-Clearwater International had a record 1.3 million passengers in 2004 but then lost its two main carriers: Southeast Airlines and ATA. But in 2006, the discount airline Allegiant swooped in and signed a five-year contract to bring to the airport its service to smaller cities. It then agreed to a two-year extension that ends this year.
In 2012, the airport served 865,000 passengers. But Lagos predicts that the airport could see as many as 950,000 passengers in the coming year. Allegiant is expanding the seating on its McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and in March will add a sixth jet to the fleet it keeps stationed here.
Lagos said he also sees no reason why Allegiant wouldn't continue to fly out of St. Pete-Clearwater International.
"Our partnership is very collegial," he said. "They do very well in this market and, conversely, we're a very good partner for Allegiant."