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Rick Kriseman ties new commercial flights out of downtown to first flight 102 years ago

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St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman released a video Friday showing his recent flight from downtown St. Pete to Fort Lauderdale on a new commercial flight now available out of Albert Whitted airport.

“Today we have the pleasure of flying from Albert Whitted down to Fort Lauderdale on a 9-passenger plane. Very easy flight. Very Comfortable,” Kriseman said of the February 1st flight. “Being able to take off from Albert Whitted is really something that I always wanted to see happen.”

The plays on the city’s historical ties to air travel.

“On January 1st, 1914 Tony Jannus piloted the world’s first scheduled winged airline from St. Petersburg, FL with former Mayor Abram C. Freil on board,” the video begins.

It’s been 102 years since that first flight.

Kriseman is touting the new flights in and out of downtown St. Pete as a way to increase transit options in the city.

“It’s allowing our residents to have another way of traveling outside of having to go to St. Pete Clearwater or Tampa International and it allows people to be able to fly directly into downtown – not even have to rent a car, just be able to walk to their hotel and really be able to take advantage of everything that downtown St. Pete has to offer,” Kriseman said. “We have to have alternative means of transportation other than just cars. So whether that’s in the form of a high speed ferry that goes from downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa or an airline like Tropic Ocean Air that can go to Fort Lauderdale, to Key West to Tallahassee, that’s the direction that we want to be going in as a city. That’s how we become more sustainable.”

The interior of the amphibious Cessna, a small but spacious cabin seating nine, is decked out with comfortable chairs and over-the-shoulder seat belts.

The flights, available to the public, run twice a week on Mondays and Fridays in the morning and evening and cost about $300 for round-trip tickets. Tropic Ocean, the small airline company operating the flights, is running a sale on the flights through May for $199.

Still, the price is steep compared to other ways of getting to Fort Lauderdale by air. Silver Airlines, for example, costs a little over $120 before taxes and fees to make the same trip from Tampa.

The new St. Pete service, however, isn’t necessarily catering to travelers looking to save a buck.

“It’s not intended to be a low-cost carrier,” St. Pete Chamber board Chairman Greg Holden  said following the flight earlier this month.

Imagine what it takes now to hop a flight from Tampa International Airport. Travelers typically arrive at least an hour early to allow time to get through security and to their gate. There’s time to park, time waiting on the plane and time getting off the plane. All the while, the flight to Fort Lauderdale itself is less than an hour.

By the time travelers factor in how long it takes to fly a large aircraft a short distance, the benefit of flying versus driving has been mitigated. Meanwhile, flying out of Albert Whitted allows travelers to step out of their cars and virtually right onto the plane — no security, no getting there early.

Plus the company helps its customers with ground transportation to and from their destination to make trips even easier.

It’s something city officials hope will attract businesses to St. Pete.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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