By Ed Runyan
The Continental/United and Southwest/AirTran airline mergers may provide an opportunity for Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, a consultant for the local airport said.
Tom Reich, president of Air Service Partners of Alexandria, Va., said the mergers eventually could cause Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to lose its status as a hub for United, which recently merged with Continental.
“Anything that speeds up the shutdown of the [Cleveland] hub definitely helps [Youngstown-Warren airport’s] chances of securing United service,” Reich said in a memo.
Loss of a United/Continental hub in Cleveland would most likely mean loss of flights there and additional opportunities for flights into Youngstown-Warren, said Dan Dickten, aviation director at the local airport.
One U.S. airline already is studying service to Washington, D.C., four times daily from the Valley airport.
Dickten has been talking with officials at a variety of airlines since he came on board in April, hoping to attract one to provide daily service to a hub airport such as Dulles International in Washington, D.C., Chicago O’Hare or Detroit International.
Colgan Air is conducting a feasibility study now to help it decide whether to offer flights four times daily from Vienna to Washington Dulles in a 34-seat Saab jet-prop aircraft.
Results of the study are expected to be available before Christmas with potential announcement of service in January, Reich wrote in his memo.
“It is possible that if the [Washington] service is successful, and there is no reason to believe it would not be, United would add service to Chicago O’Hare” using a 70-seat aircraft after that, Reich wrote.
The Washington flights would give local business travelers a way to get to the nation’s capital without a connecting flight and allow them to fly anywhere in the world by way of Washington, Dickten said.
Having flights east and west would give those travelers attractive options, and surveys have indicated there are business travelers here who want the service, he added.
If Colgan Air announces that it wants to proceed with the service, the local airport would begin a campaign to raise the matching money — $287,500 — to provide Colgan with the $862,520 revenue-guarantee it would need to start up the service, Dickten said.
The community will also have to provide an additional $467,000 worth of in-kind services, such as free advertising to Colgan, Dickten said.
The remaining funds would come from the $575,000 U.S. Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program grant the airport was awarded in October 2007.
Regional airline American Eagle is also considering service between the local airport and Washington Dulles, and Delta Connection is studying a route involving the local airport and Detroit International Airport, Reich said.
As for the Akron-Canton Regional Airport, it’s tough to tell whether the merger of Southwest and AirTran, one of Akron-Canton’s chief airlines, will cause Southwest/AirTran to reduce or eliminate flights at Akron-Canton, Reich said.
It’s also hard to tell what impact AirTran’s departure from Akron-Canton would have on the Vienna airport, Reich said.
Dickten said the two expansions of Allegiant Air’s flight offerings this year from Vienna to leisure destinations indicate that local travelers are growing increasingly comfortable with using the local airport.
Allegiant added flights to Myrtle Beach in the spring and Tampa last month. Both flights have been well received, but the Tampa flights have done “really well,” Dickten said.
By the end of this year, the number of airport passengers is expected to rise to 27,000 for the year, more than 60 percent above the 17,391 who flew in 2009.
“People are loving flying out of airport,” Dickten said, adding that a new set of rest- rooms accessible to ticketed passengers after they have been through security are expected to be ready by early February.