The Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport's role as a facilitator of passenger air service will be further diminished when USAirways Express pulls out in October, but that certainly does not mean it has lost its potential to become a catalyst for job-creation in the Mahoning Valley.
What Valley residents need to understand is that all the pieces are now in place to transform the airport into a regional cargo hub. While it is desirable to have commercial airlines flying in and out of the Vienna Township facility, such service is not essential to its future.
Consider these two headlines that appeared on the front page of last Tuesday's Vindicator: "Airline to end local flights"; "Packard will build new plant." What do they have in common? They both topped news stories that related directly or indirectly to the airport.
The ending of flights by USAirways Express to Pittsburgh, thus leaving only Northwest, which flies twice a day to Detroit, spotlights the challenge that confronts the Western Reserve Port Authority in persuading area residents to drive to Vienna Township, as opposed to Pittsburgh or Cleveland.
On the other hand, the announcement that Delphi Packard Electric System will locate a $58.5 million plastics plant in the township illustrates the important role the airport can play in the region's economic revitalization effort.
Industrial park: Packard will lease the plant from the Western Reserve Port Authority, which operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. The authority is buying land and constructing the building in a new industrial park being developed off Ridge Road by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The location of the industrial park is no accident. It is designed to give tenants easy access to the airport, which has undergone extensive upgrading. More than $40 million, mostly from the federal government, has been spent on extending the main runway, developing taxiways and making other improvements. In addition, the federal and state governments have provided funds for the construction of the King Graves Road interchange at state route 11 near the airport. The project is scheduled to be completed by July 2002. The interchange would make the industrial park attractive to companies that could benefit by having the airport next door.
The 88-acre park has already landed a major tenant, the Latrobe Steel Distribution Co., a part of the Timkin Co. of Canton, which is building a $10 million, 183,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. The state has put together a financing package that covers 90 percent of the cost.
Given all that, we believe the region has no choice but to ensure that the airport remains operational and viable.
Study: And while the decision by USAirways Express to discontinue service is a blow to the port authority's campaign to persuade Valley residents that utilizing the Vienna Township facility makes more sense than driving to either Pittsburgh or Cleveland, it is not fatal. At the very least, residents should wait until a $45,000 study by a Washington, D.C., consulting firm is presented to the port authority, possibly within the next two weeks, before making up their minds. The study is expected to detail how the airport can be used and marketed.
As we noted earlier this year, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport does need become self-sufficient sooner rather than later, but Mahoning and Trumbull county commissioners, who have allocated $454,263 this year for the operation and maintenance of the facility, should not bow to pressure from detractors and withdraw their support. There is too much at stake.