VACATION EXPRESS Airport dispute will be going to court
An aviation company disputes claims by the port authority.
WARREN -- The Western Reserve Port Authority wants $261,451 back from a company that provided charter flights last year from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
The port authority filed suit in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court against Aviation Technologies Inc. of Avoca, Pa.
Aviation Technologies President Jim Gallagher agreed there's a dispute over the money. But he maintained it's really his company that is owed by the port authority, and said a judge will concur once he sees the contract between the company and the authority.
"The reason the service was canceled was because they got so arrears in their payments," Gallagher said. "They kept begging us to keep flying passengers without all the fees they agreed to out of their end of the contract."
Disagreement over authority
The port authority, which manages the airport in Vienna Township, said a disagreement developed between the port authority and Aviation Technologies over responsibility "for claimed losses for the charter flights originating from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport," the two-page suit states.
A copy of the January 2004 memorandum of understanding among the parties is attached to the filing.
"They owe us, and they are trying some illegitimate response, turning it around and saying we owe them the amount," Gallagher said.
Aviation Technologies operated flights on behalf of Vacation Express, which ceased accepting reservations in August and stopped flights in September. It had asked for an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to continue the service for three or four months.
The memorandum of understanding was for providing direct air service between the airport and the Orlando, Fla., area, and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Flights began in April 2004, with the help of $300,000 from the port authority, which borrowed the money from Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
The memorandum spells out a six-month agreement, extendable to two years if demand was high enough, measured by average load factor of no less than 70 percent. Fares began at $69 each way and increased incrementally as seats were sold.
The port authority was to fund a broad advertising campaign, and any revenue shortfalls were to be covered by any revenue surplus held on account, or a withdrawal from the port authority's "security deposit" of $300,000. The port authority was to provide boarding gates, jetways, ticket counter baggage, and aircraft parking and landing areas -- but to waive all airport fees for the first six months.
At the expiration of the contract the remaining balance from the $300,000 "will be refunded to the port authority after any unpaid amounts due under this agreement are deducted," the memorandum states.
'They owe us money'
"We're just going to hand the contract over to the judge and say, 'Look, here it is," Gallagher said. "One hundred percent, they owe us the money. We operated out of Youngstown and extended them credit. It's a shame they have not paid their dues."
When the flights ended, Vacation Express 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 were suspended from Scranton-Wilkes Barre; Youngstown had been a stop on those flights.
Airport officials said that tickets and the flights were selling well for a start-up airline, although some flights were delayed. Flights to Orlando-Sanford International Airport were 83 percent full, while flights to Myrtle Beach ran at 70 percent capacity.
Maintaining the number of passengers moving through the airport allowed it to hold on to a $1 million annual FAA grant.
Officials have said they are working to secure another flight provider this year.