St. Petersburg eyes future flights to Cuba

Image 1 of 3

Tropic Ocean Airways plans to start regularly scheduled flights between Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport starting in February. 

The relatively small carrier is less than five years old and operates a fleet of small aircraft, including seaplanes, and until now it has been a charter carrier primarily shuttling between Caribbean destinations and Ft. Lauderdale. 

The St. Petersburg connection will be its first commercial operation. 

"We're going to launch service here starting February First...twice on Fridays, twice on Mondays," chief executive officer Rob Ceravolo told a Thursday morning news conference. "There's going to be a morning flight and an evening flight." 

He later told FOX 13 News the initial customer base will be business travelers and tourists. 

"There's a lot of things to offer people who are staying in South Florida or live in South Florida" he said. "They fly in from Europe or South America, we take them from the international airport there in South Florida to St. Pete."

Coincidentally, the U.S. State department also announced an agreement to resume commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba early next year.  That opportunity is also on Tropic Ocean's radar.  "Absolutely," Ceravolo confirmed, "I've been to Havana six times this year already on charter, so we already fly there, we're approved to fly there on charter so we're looking forward to them opening it up for regular service."

Also coincidentally, a delegation of Cuban cultural affairs officials and artists arrived in St. Petersburg Thursday as part of a new initiative to develop international relations. 

"We view this as an economic development of sorts," St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO Joni James told FOX 13 News. "It's Positioning St. Petersburg to take full advantage as diplomatic issues change with Cuba." 

Last summer Mayor Rick Kriseman took a small group of people to Havana to explore the possibility of locating a Cuban consulate in St. Petersburg. 

The Downtown Partnership followed up on that initiative in October, then invited the cultural affairs visitation. 

"This is a way to sort of start the conversation" James said, "We are trying as much as we can to show them that we would welcome them and would want them in our community."