By Ed Runyan
With the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport now offering flights to three leisure destinations — Orlando, St. Petersburg and Myrtle Beach — total passengers for 2011 are expected to climb to 39,000.
That would be the highest total in 20 years.
Tom Reich, president of the consulting company Air Service Partners LLC, made that observation to members of the Western Reserve Port Authority on Wednesday at the port authority’s monthly meeting.
Dan Dickten, director of aviation at the airport, which is run by the port authority, said 27,581 passengers flew out of the airport in 2010, up 60 percent over the 17,391 passengers who flew in 2009.
Allegiant Air, which provides most of the flights at the airport, added the Myrtle Beach flights in April and the St. Petersburg flights in November.
Having those flights an entire year will make the 2011 totals higher, Dickten said.
Reich, of Alexandria, Va., showed port-authority members a graphic showing that the local airport carried about 33,000 passengers per year throughout most of the 1990s.
In the last quarter of 1999, the airport offered 11 daily flights from United, Northwest and U.S. Air to Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Within a year, there were seven flights daily to Detroit and Pittsburgh. By the end of 2001 there were two flights daily to Detroit, and by the end of 2002 there were none.
The number of passengers dropped from 27,000 in 2000 to 19,000 in 2001, to 11,365 in 2002 and to zero in 2003. Only sporadic commercial flights were offered between 2003 and 2006, when Allegiant Air started flying here.
Reich attended the meeting at the Youngstown Business Incubator to discuss how the airline industry has changed since 2000 and how airline mergers will affect all of Northeast Ohio’s airports in the future.
The biggest reason airlines pulled out of the local airport at the start of the last decade was the so-called “Southwest effect,” resulting from airlines such as Southwest Airlines and AirTran providing low-cost flights in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron-Canton.
The recent merger of United and Continental and proposed merger of Southwest Airlines and AirTran are likely to have a negative effect on the Cleveland and Akron-Canton airports and provide an opportunity for the local airport to regain some market share, Reich said.
One strategy will be to show airlines such as American Eagle, Delta Connection, U.S. Airways Express and United Express how many local people fly every day out of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron-Canton.
In the area roughly 30 miles out from the local airport, in a population of about 725,000 people, about 281 of them take a flight every day out of Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Akron-Canton, Reich said.
That’s enough business to support six flights per day on a 50-passenger aircraft, Reich said.
In other business, the port authority approved the election of Scott Lynn as chairman, Scott Lewis as vice chairman and Pat Pellin as secretary.
Board member Don Hanni III voted no on the positions, saying he is “not happy with the way things operate around here,” specifically with Lynn and Lewis.
Hanni said he chose not to run against either man for the positions because he believes they should be responsible for fixing the problems they have caused. He declined to identify the specific problems.