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VIENNA If two counties bail out, how will regional airport fly solo?



Published: Mon, July 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Capital-improvement projects at the airport continue, thanks to federal grants.

THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

VIENNA -- If Trumbull and Mahoning counties don't pay to keep lights on at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, it is unclear who else will.

Since the last airline to use the airport announced plans to leave Sept. 8, Mahoning County commissioners have wondered out loud about their options in continuing to support the facility in Vienna Township.

Mahoning and Trumbull counties each contribute about $300,000 a year toward regular operations at the airport.

The money -- 38 percent of the airport's annual revenue -- goes for plowing runways, paying salaries and utility bills, and other operating expenses.

"There is a baseline," said Thomas Nolan, the airport's director of aviation. "We are obligated to keep the airport open in rain and sleet and snow, and you have got to have people to do that."

These are not the type of bills that federal or state agencies are likely to step in to pay, officials said.

"As far as I know, there are no programs for operating expenses," said Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

What funds are available

Grants for capital-improvement projects continue to come in, however, even as airport officials work on cutting expenses to compensate for the expected loss of Northwest Airlines.

Federal money will pay for 90 percent of the $600,000 to $700,000 worth of improvements planned at the airport this year, said Nolan.

The projects -- all mandated by the government -- include widening some stripes on the runway from 6 to 12 inches, leveling the ground next to runways and tying the airport terminal into sanitary sewers.

The Ohio Department of Transportation also offers money for such capital-improvement projects as runway improvements, but none for operating expenses.

"Our programs are for capital improvements only," said Brian Cunningham, a spokesman for ODOT.

The state or federal authorities are also unlikely to want to take over the airport, officials agreed.

"If you believe that anything is possible, I imagine it is possible, but it would be highly unusual," said Reid Dulberger, president of the board of Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the airport. "As far as I know, there is no precedent."

"I don't know if that is an option," said Amanda Flaig, spokeswoman for Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine.

The most likely candidate to purchase the airport would seem to be the Youngstown Air Force Reserve Station, which is located next door and uses the airport's runway for its fleet of C-130s.

The decision to purchase an airport would have to be made at the Pentagon, said Master Sgt. Bryan Ripple, a base spokesman. The general trend has been for the military to sell airports, not buy them, he said.

"As long as the runway remains open, that is all we need," he said.




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