BY GEORGE RAAB Special to Florida Weekly
COURTESY PHOTO Air Berlin flies non-stop from Southwest Florida International Airport to Germany. Happy birthday, Air Berlin! Fifteen years into an experiment of sorts, a direct intercontinental flight to Southwest Florida International Airport, what started out as a curious match between Germany's second-largest airline and a medium hub airport is a success. Floridian and European travelers love its spacious planes — 8330 Airbus flight craft seating 300 and one of the youngest fleets in the industry — and traffic is up from the same period in 2008, 10.33 percent for the six months ended June 30. During a time when nationwide travel is forecast to be down by 8 percent, international even more, the increase is good news.
It was 1993 when Bob Ball, Lee County Port Authority's executive director, came to town. His first assignment was to recruit international air service. While executive director of Jacksonville International Airport, he'd begun the groundwork to convince LTU International Airlines (taken over by Air Berlin in 2008) to fly to the northern Florida airport. While that arrangement never came to fruition, he'd become acquainted with LTU's key executives.
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