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Port authority can't abandon search for an air carrier



Published: Wed, August 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The apparent collapse of an agreement to bring Pan Am Clipper Connection air service to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport brings to mind Mark Twain's advice on not taking too much from an unhappy experience.

"A cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will never again sit upon a hot stove lid. Nor upon a cold stove lid, & quot; Twin observed.

And, frankly, a cat could go through the rest of its life without ever sitting on any stove again and miss very little. The Western Reserve Port Authority, however, does not have the luxury of avoiding any risk of ever being burned.

The port authority has a responsibility to seek new aviation business for the airport and attempting to develop any new business involves risk. The greatest risk, however, is inherent in allowing the civilian side of the airport to remain underutilized. The risk of that is that federal support for the airport will be cut and that local government would then have to provide more money to maintain the airport. Failure to do that would mean almost certainly that the next time the Pentagon enters a round of Base Realignment and Closure examinations, the Youngstown Air Reserve Base would be in danger. The loss of the Mahoning Valley's fifth largest employer would be an intolerable blow to the community.

We acknowledge our enthusiastic response to the announcement little more than a month ago that Pan Am was coming to town. Almost immediately, however, Pan Am was criticized for its past disputes with the Air Line Pilots Association over union jurisdiction on some of its flights.

Final blow

Last week, Pan Am acknowledged that a former company officer had altered financial disclosure documents submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That led to the port authority's decision that it would not spend a $250,000 federal grant to promote Pan Am's new Youngstown service unless Pan Am put up a performance bond. And that led to Pan Am President David Fink's announcement that he would take his planes elsewhere.

Which leaves the airport just about where it was a month ago. The port authority has money to spend to help an air carrier make a go of service here, but no carrier yet willing to make the commitment.

Steve Bowser, airport director, says the port authority is in serious discussions with two possible carriers and is continuing conversations with two or three others. Something could materialize in a few days or a few months, Bowser said.

A few days ago, we praised the port authority for looking for new ways of developing the airport for private aviation use. But it is important for a metropolitan area to maintain an identity as a commercial air service provider.

And, as Bower points out, the Youngstown-Warren airport has an identifiable market, even if it is somewhat limited.

Customer base

More than 1,300 people a week from what would be considered the airport's potential target market already fly to Las Vegas from the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron airports. Another 1,200 a week fly to Florida. That is a customer base that an emerging or established airline might covet.

It is important that the port authority not be made timid by recent failures to tap that passenger base -- and others that might emerge.




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