Use or lose service, airline official says
At least 60 percent capacity on flights is needed, the airline's president said.
VIENNA -- The big white and blue Pan Am jetliner roared up to the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport to a round of applause, under blue but hazy skies.
"Haven't seen one of those in a long time. Nice to see," said Bill Reali, Western Reserve Port Authority chairman, who is among the core group that helped bring carrier service back.
Like Wednesday morning's weather, things looked good but what would happen next wasn't perfectly clear.
"This is still not over. It's up to the people in this area to take advantage of it," said Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris, who was among the dozens of government, business and community leaders on hand at the airport to greet the plane and Pan Am's president, David A. Fink.
"If we don't use it, we're gonna lose it," Tsagaris said.
Fink -- whose blue shirt matched the corporate lettering on the Boeing 727 -- agreed. "You either put backsides in the seat or it won't work. Giving an airline money is crap. An airline has to stand on its own," he said.
Boston-Maine Airways, operating the Pan Am Clipper Connection, needs to have 60 percent capacity on its flights to and from Youngstown. "If we can hit 60 percent, we can break even -- that's this morning," Fink said, noting fuel costs are rising. "For me to come here and blow smoke at everybody, I'm not gonna do that ... I can't fly airplanes with a 40 percent or 50 percent load factor."
The enthusiasm he's so far seen, however, makes him optimistic for success. "We're not fools. We're businessmen," he said, seeing Youngstown-Warren as "a good opportunity."
The airport itself stacks up well against other, similar facilities, Fink said. "We go into 'metro convenient' airports. Metro convenient airports are below the radar. That's why this meets our requirements."
The airline's service will start Sept. 15 at four days a week here in various markets: Orlando/Sanford, Fla., St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., Newburgh, N.Y., San Juan and Aquadilla, Puerto Rico. Cost one way will be $79 and up to $199 in some markets, based on the flight and aircraft capacity.
Stacy Beck, Pan Am's director of stations, said the average cost would be $110 to $120.
To book flights call local travel services, visit www.FlyPanAm.com or call (800) Fly-Pan Am (359-7262). Fink said his airline still gives a commission to local travel agents.
Beck said five to six people would be hired initially to begin handling customer service here.
The airline hasn't asked for a public subsidy but is looking to the port authority, which runs the Vienna Township airport, for a marketing push. Private money from the Trumbull 100 group of community leaders paid Rubenstein Associates of Liberty some $30,000 to reach out to airlines this year.
The company's president, Vic Rubenstein, said research now will determine who flies, when, where and why. This data will be wrapped into a targeted advertising campaign focusing on values to the consumer, he said. "We're just going to sell the heck out of it" between now and September, for starters.
Activity at the airport is welcomed by Trumbull and Mahoning counties, which for years have subsidized its operation. Each county sends a percentage of its lodging tax on motel guests to the port authority.
"We had to keep it alive," Tsagaris said of the airport. "Hopefully, with Pan Am, we'll start to see some return on our investment." He estimated Trumbull County provided $3 million to $4 million over the last six or seven years.
"We matched that," added Mahoning Commissioner David Ludt. The money was used to secure federal grant dollars for runway and taxiway improvements, among other things.
Tsagaris stressed there's no way now that the counties could start from scratch and build such a facility.
"We have a real diamond in the rough here. We just have to keep bringing it out. We're in the right direction this time," he added.
Different than predecessor
It was last year when another airline venture, Vacation Express, did not work at the airport. That company flew vacation travelers south but didn't have its own planes and squabbled with the port authority over money. People complained about late planes.
Asked what Pan Am would do differently than Vacation Express, Fink responded: "Succeed." He said the airline has a good name and a reputation for civility and service, and knows its niche is the metro convenient market. "I'm not gonna take on American Airlines or Northwest or anyone else," he said.
The port authority, meanwhile, is in receipt of proposals from a handful of management companies that might want a shot at running the airport. Where this will lead also is uncertain, said Steve Bowser, director of aviation.
"The whole premise is, we should explore all possibilities," he said. A management group might be able to accomplish certain things here that the port authority on its own cannot, he said.