REGION Officials vow to back airport
Security costs have risen by as much as $100,000 a year.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties say they won't give up on the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, even if the airlines do.
"The airport is not just about passenger service," said Vicki Allen Sherlock, a Mahoning County commissioner. "We all think that it is important that we have an airport."
The local airport is in for some turbulence.
Leaving: One of the two airlines serving it, US Airways, has announced a departure date of Oct. 15, and it is "very conceivable" that the other airline, Northwest, will also take off before the end of the year, said Tom Nolan, the airport's director of aviation.
The loss of US Airways alone is expected to cost the airport between $50,000 and $60,000 a year from its operations budget, and an additional $36,000 from capital improvement funds. Officials said they have not calculated the losses from a Northwest pullout.
Still an asset: Even with no passenger service, the airport could still anchor economic development in the King Graves Road area.
Two companies that had been threatening to leave the Mahoning Valley relocated to the area since the Western Reserve Port Authority began promoting development there.
"The airport is a key component," said Michael J. O'Brien, Trumbull County commissioner.
The facility is home base for about 40 private planes and has room for expansion as a cargo hub, Nolan said. It also serves the adjacent Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
The airport had already planned to end the year $500,000 in the red, not including capital improvements.
Taxpayers from Trumbull and Mahoning counties pick up the slack. Between operating expenses and capital improvements, taxpayers are expected to chip in $900,000 toward the airport this year.
That was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks stifled the travel industry, squeezed airlines and led the president to announce military action.
"America is changing as we speak, the airlines are changing, and it is too early to jump to conclusions," said Joseph J. Angelo Jr., Trumbull County commissioner. "We just have to wait for the dust to settle."
Added costs: Heightened security requirements established since Sept. 11 will cost the airport an additional $80,000 to $100,000 a year, Nolan told the Western Reserve Port Authority board Tuesday.
The board, which is appointed by county commissioners from both counties, runs the airport.
The airport also had to spend $4,500 on a scanner to verify the validity of employee identification badges, he said.
Nolan declined to say what the new staffing requirements are.
In July, the Vienna Police Department signed a $185,000 contract to keep one police officer on duty at the airport at all times. On a recent weekday morning, two were there.
"The Vienna Township trustees are willing to work with us in charging cost only to bring the additional officers," Nolan said, adding he plans to ask the Federal Aviation Administration within the next few weeks to ease the heightened requirements.
The departure of passenger service would do little to cut the cost of keeping the airport open, about $1.2 million a year in operating expenses alone, said Dino Theofilos, chairman of the port authority board.
Report: The board is eagerly awaiting a report commissioned from a Washington, D.C., firm to suggest how it can market the airport to new air carriers.
The bright side of losing both airlines would be that the board can tell potential carriers that "they will get all the passengers," Theofilos said.