By Burton Speakman
Community and business leaders have pledged about $600,000 in potential business to help lure daily flights back to the Mahoning Valley.
Gary Wakeford, a member of YNGAir Partners, an organization that works with area businesses and civic leaders to assist in securing daily flight service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, introduced a travel-bank program last week.
The program is designed to show the community will support daily air service, he said.
A travel bank is a list of pledges made by local businesses, large employers and even individuals who travel frequently and states how much each believes it would spend annually to use specific new airline service to be initiated from a local airport.
The purpose of the program is to quantify local demand for daily air travel.
“Access to viable markets, time and money are among the most critical resources for success to nearly every business. Having a full-service airport that provides the necessary gateway in a time- and cost- efficient manner is a critical piece of the puzzle to growing and expanding the business base,” Wakeford said.
The travel bank idea is not new. It’s something airports have been using for years in an attempt to lure daily service, said Dan Dickten, director of aviation at the airport.
“Our goal is to have $1 million pledged by the end of the month,” he said. “It looks like that is going to be doable.”
The total pledge goal for the initiative is $3 million to $5 million, Dickten said.
The biggest issue holding back daily flights from Youngstown now is a lack of airplanes, he said.
“If United had a plane available, I think we would have a Youngstown-to-Washington-D.C. flight now,” Dickten said. “But that’s just one of many options we’re exploring.”
The preferred plan would have Youngstown’s daily flights go to Chicago or Detroit, because those airports offer more connecting locations, Dickten said.
Part of the increased demand for daily travel has come from the new companies involved in the oil and gas business.
“I don’t think these oil guys are going to want to go east to fly west,” he said.
The flights going to Chicago and Detroit each have good connections opportunities for Texas, Dickten said.
United was at one point concerned the Cleveland Airport would have issues with daily flights from Youngstown, but that is not an issue, he said.
The hope is to gain customers who normally would fly out of Pittsburgh and Cleveland,” Dickten said. “The goal is to improve airline service in Northeast Ohio.”
Currently, about 59 percent of potential daily customers for Youngstown go to the Pittsburgh Airport, 39 percent to Cleveland and the remainder are split between the Detroit and Canton-Akron airports, with more going to Detroit because of international flights, he said.
Companies that want to invest in an area want the ability to move their employees into and out of a region quickly, said Eric Planey, vice president of international business development with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
“It is essential that the business community of the Mahoning Valley support this service with the travel-bank initiative. Supporting it will ultimately support your company, and that is a classic win-win scenario,” he said.
The airport last had daily service available in 2003. It currently has about $1.68 million in revenue guarantees available, Dickten said. The airport is also working with the state for another grant to help with the guarantee amount.
“It used to be that companies would come to an area, blow through the guarantee, and then they were gone,” he said. “Now the law requires they stay for two years.”