If there's a lesson to be learned from the Pan Am debacle, it is that the search for a commercial airline to fly in and out of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport is too important to be handled by a single entity, even one as dedicated as the Western Reserve Port Authority. At the very least, the port authority should invite U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and Ted Strickland of Lisbon, D-6th, to actively participate in the search.
Given the challenge to persuade big or small airlines to bring service to Youngstown-Warren, it helps to have members of Congress on hand to close the deal. A call from a congressman to the chief executive officer of a carrier is more likely to be answered than a call from a marketing consultant.
Ryan and Strickland are familiar with the airport through their involvement in the Mahoning Valley's campaign to keep the Youngstown Air Reserve Station off the Pentagon's base-closing list. The base is adjacent to the airport and uses the runways and other facilities.
The campaign, led by Save Our Air Reservists, was a success. In its evaluation, the Defense Department paid special attention to the facilities not only on base but at the airport. They were given high marks.
Ryan and Strickland have been aggressively pursuing federal funds for both facilities, but Federal Aviation Administration grants may be more difficult to secure if the number of commercial passengers doesn't meet a federal target. That is why an airline with regular service is so important.
The last-minute decision by Pan Am to not begin daily flights to the Valley prompted Ryan to warn the port authority that he does not want a repeat of that miscue. The congressman is upset because he says he warned the board of directors in June that Pan Am was on shaky ground stemming from allegations of fraud against a company official. He urged the directors not to rush into a deal with the airline.
However, with much fanfare, Pan Am was formally introduced to the region during a press event at the airport. A Pan Am jet carrying top company officials made an impressive landing, with area political and community leaders and a large gathering of reporters on hand to welcome it.
"Unfortunately, they did not share my view," Ryan says of the port authority directors.
Service was scheduled to begin Nov. 10, but earlier this month company President David A. Fink announced he was pulling out after the port authority refused to provide $250,000 in advertising help. Directors wanted to wait until the U.S. Department of Transportation's questions about the company's financial health were fully answered.
The port authority had also asked Fink to put up a performance bond to secure the advertising dollars. He refused.
Port authority officials say they are pursuing other leads. We would urge them to invite congressmen Ryan and Strickland to become actively involved in the negotiations and to use the power of their offices to get all the information they can about the viability of future potential carriers.