Airport’s July passenger count impressive in this economy

If the federal government needs any proof that a $780,000 grant will be a sound investment in the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport, it need only look at the 32 percent increase in passengers in July compared with July of 2011.

The 10,869 people who utilized the easily accessible, passenger-friendly airport represent more than statistics. They confirm what aviation and local government officials have long contended: Airline travel is all about the destination — and getting there with the least amount of trouble, given the emphasis on security.

The federal grant would be used to attract daily service to the Youngstown-Warren airport, and as we noted in an editorial in June, the Mahoning Valley has had one of the highest manufacturing growth rates in the U.S.

Forbes and Manpower magazines said the area was the fourth best place to find a job in the nation. This, in the midst of an anemic recovery from the national economic recession that has undermined job creation since late 2008.

A 20-year high

The federal government would be hard-pressed to argue against the airport’s July passenger count. It was the highest in 20 years. Then, 12,357 passengers used the Vienna Township facility.

In seeking the $780,000 grant, the Western Reserve Port Authority, which governs the airport, and the director of aviation, Dan Dickten, have set their sights set on attracting a regional carrier.

“The more passenger volume you have, the more transportation money you can get,” said Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel, reacting to last month’s count. “It’s certainly good news.”

It would be a travesty if that news did not reach the bureaucrats in Washington who will make the ultimate decision about the grant. So, we repeat our call to former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, who is now working in the White House, to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration on behalf of this Valley.

Williams, who left the mayor’s job a year ago to join the Obama administration, is well aware of the importance of the airport to the region’s economic well-being.

As the city’s chief executive, he played a leading role in persuading V&M Star to invest about $700 million in two plants that will be producing steel pipes for the gas exploration industry. Williams knows first-hand that such an investment necessitates company officials from around the country coming to the Valley to oversee the construction of this significant investment and to prepare the two plants for production. Both are located along state Route 422 and span Youngstown and Girard.

Williams knows that commercial air travel is an important ingredient in the economic revitalization of the Valley, which is why we have urged him to use his position in the White House to persuade the FAA that the grant is a small investment to make in an airport that is succeeding despite the many challenges it faces.

High-flying sales

Director of Aviation Dickten attributed the July numbers to expanded and affordable service to points in Florida and South Carolina.

“Flights to Myrtle Beach are up 100 percent this year,” Dickten told The Vindicator. “We also cranked up our flights to Sanford-Orlando.”

Allegiant Air, the airport’s sole carrier, set a record in July, flying nearly 10,000 passengers to those destinations. All told, the carrier sold 93 percent of its available seats for the month, The Vindicator reported last week.

Although Allegiant earned most of the profits from additional passengers, Dickten said those parking at the airport helped its bottom line.

According to figures provided by Dickten, net revenue from parking in July was $26,154, up significantly from June when the airport earned net revenue of $17,463.

The federal government can’t argue with success. It should reward what’s going on at the regional airport with a federal grant.

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