VACATION EXPRESS Service to cease at airport



The airline will cease flights from the regional airport next month, officials say.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
VIENNA -- Vacation Express has ceased accepting reservations to fly from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
The company said its decision was prompted by high fuel costs, the normal fall seasonal slowdown and the failure of officials in both Youngstown and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pa., to renew subsidies. Flights also have been suspended from Scranton-Wilkes-Barre; Youngstown had been a stop on those flights.
Western Reserve Port Authority officials say the airline will cease flights from Youngstown on Sept. 7, although there's a possibility the flights to Sanford, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., may resume next year on a seasonal basis.
People holding tickets after that date will get refunds from Vacation Express, said Steve Bowser, interim airport director.
Port authority's view
The port authority runs the local airport. Its members, meeting this morning, cast the six-month experience with Vacation Express as a success, despite the airline's decision to discontinue regular service.
"We have proved to everybody in aviation we have an excellent airport, and we really have an awful lot to offer," said William Reali, board chairman. He said he was hopeful that flights would start again next year.
Vacation Express officials had said they were considering ending flights to Sanford and Myrtle Beach in September, after its six-month commitment to the airport is over.
Airport officials said that tickets and the flights were selling well for a start-up airline. Flights to Orlando-Sanford International Airport were 83 percent full, while flights to Myrtle Beach ran at 70-percent capacity.
"People in the area now should be able to see there is a possibility here," said Mike Harshman, another board member. "I think the airport is in better position to attract a scheduled airline than it was before."
Funding
The flights began in April, with the help of $300,000 from the port authority, which borrowed the money from Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Reali said the $300,000 expenditure was still a good investment because, by keeping the number of passengers moving through the airport up, it allowed the airport to hold on to a $1 million annual FAA grant. "Would you spend $300,000 to get a million?" he said.
Reali thanked local press for supporting the airline. "I couldn't have asked for more support," he said.
Officials had been negotiating with Aviation Technologies, the company that operated the flights on behalf of Vacation Express, and with Hooters Air to take over the routes. So far, neither negotiation has succeeded.
Vacation Express asked for an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to continue the service for three or four months, Bowser said. No agreement had been reached.
"They are not a successful company," said port authority board member Clarence Smith. "If they are broke, they will leave, I guess."
Vacation Express, which serves 11 cities, is a subsidiary of a division of RCG Companies Incorporated, which trades on the American Stock Exchange.

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