Federal grant gives airport a chance to prove its worth

There can be no excuses now for officials of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport not to show significant progress in the Valley’s bid for daily commercial air service between the Vienna Township facility and a hub airport in the Midwest or East.

A $780,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, to be matched with about $420,000 locally, is designed to guarantee some carrier a revenue stream if its flights are not self-supporting immediately. Such a guarantee has long been a condition set forth by airlines in the past because of the uncertainty of the passenger load at the Youngstown-Warren airport.

With $1.2 million as a sweetener, we would think that Director of Aviation Dan Dickten and members of the Western Reserve Port Authority could make a compelling case for daily commercial service.

The $780,000 federal grant was announced the same day The Vindicator published an editorial in which we argued that a 32 percent increase in passengers in July compared with July 2011 proves that the airport is showing signs of vitality. We acknowledge that the main service provided by Allegiant Air is to vacation destinations in Florida and South Carolina. But the bigger picture cannot be ignored.

Word is spreading throughout this area and western Pennsylvania that the Youngstown-Warren airport is not only conveniently located, but once there, passengers have a positive experience. Parking is cheap compared with the larger airports within driving distance of the Valley, and passing through the security checkpoints is certainly not the harrying test it is in Cleveland, Akron or Pittsburgh.

So, why would we strike a note of caution in the opening paragraph? We don’t want to see a replay of what occurred in February with a $1.045 million federal grant. The FAA withdrew $470,000 because airport officials apparently changed the terms of the funding, which the federal government found objectionable. In 2007, in applying for the Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, the Western Reserve Port Authority said the money would be used to attract an airline with a 50- to 90-seat regional jet in its fleet. However, it was decided locally that prop-jet airplanes with fewer than 50 seats would best serve the needs of this region.

Valuable lesson

We would hope that local officials have learned a valuable lesson with the loss of $470,000 in February: Washington dictates the terms of the federal grants and does not take kindly to local officials going off on a tangent — even though it may make a lot of sense.

It would behoove Dickten and the port authority to secure a memorandum of understanding that unambiguously lays out what the $780,000 grant will be used for and what type of aircraft the Youngstown-Warren airport needs to meet the demands of business and other travelers.

Residents of the Valley will not be as forgiving as they were in February if another federal grant is withdrawn because someone didn’t do his due diligence in meeting the terms and conditions of the federal money.

The director of aviation and members of the port authority must know that after all the talk about the future of the airport, taxpayers now expect results.

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