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Tropic Ocean kicks off flight service from downtown St. Pete to Fort Lauderdale

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A new flight service out of downtown St. Pete could be a useful tool in attracting new businesses.

The first flight from Albert Whitted Airport to Fort Lauderdale took off from downtown St. Pete on  Monday morning. 

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and members of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce were on board to try it out.

Photos show an amphibious Cessna parked at Albert Whitted Airport ready for takeoff. The interior, 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 jaunts 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.

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.

While it might not appeal to a family of four going to Fort Lauderdale for the weekend on a limited budget, it could be quite enticing for a CEO looking to move his business.

“What if you could walk from your office, get on a plane, and have these guys arrange your transportation on the other end and drop you off right at your conference?” Holden said.

There’s even more of an incentive buried in the new service for prospective companies. Within 12-months, the company expects to have an airplane based at Albert Whitted.

Not only does that mean hiring staff to maintain and operate the aircraft as well as facilitate sales and customer service, it also means service to other parts of the state could expand.

That opens the door for future legs to Tallahassee or Jacksonville. It also means there could be more charter opportunities for companies to fly teams of people to conferences without hassles of traditional travel.

“I think they see some of their business development and sales here,” Holden said of the potential for Tropic Ocean to expand in St. Petersburg.

He also noted that two of the company’s pilots live in 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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