Support in region grows for commercial air travel

While it’s still not certain that the Mahoning Valley will succeed in securing daily commercial air service for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, there’s no lack of support for the initiative.

According to a grassroots organization that’s working with area businesses and civic leaders, there is at least $600,000 in potential business for an airline.

How did YNGAir Partners come up with that figure? Through the travel-bank program it launched recently. The program is designed to show that a commercial airline would have a customer base it could count on, said Gary Wakeford, a member of YNGAir.

A travel bank features pledges made by local businesses, large employers and even individuals to spend a specific amount annually on commercial air travel from the regional airport.

The goal is to have $1 million in pledges by the end of the month, said Dan Dickten, director of aviation.

“It looks like that is going to be doable,” Dickten said, adding that the total pledge goal is between $3 million and $5 million.

Why is that important? Two reasons: First, it shows a potential carrier that choosing to fly in and out of Youngstown-Warren is not a financially risky proposition; second, it reassures the federal government that the Federal Aviation Administration made the right decision in approving a $780,000 grant that would be used to guarantee a revenue stream for the airline if the flights are not self-supporting immediately.

The grant was approved last month and must be matched with $420,000 in local funds. The Western Reserve Port Authority, which governs the Vienna Township facility, has $1.68 million in revenue guarantees.

Given the economic revival taking place in the region, as evidenced by major and minor private investment, commercial air travel has become a necessity. The demand for leisure flying is being met by Allegiant Air, which has flights to destinations in Florida and South Carolina. A 32 percent increase in passenger load in July, compared with July 2011, illustrates the success Allegiant is having.

With the FAA grant in hand, the port authority will be seeking financial support from the state of Ohio for the revenue-guarantee fund. The administration of Gov. John Kasich is well aware of the financial commitments being made by the private sector. The $700 million-plus invested by V&M Star in two state-of-the-art steel pipe-making plants has attracted national attention. General Motors Co. has also caused widespread chatter with its decision to invest $200 million in its Lordstown assembly plant, which will continue to produce the highly successful Chevrolet Cruze.

Success story

The current model coming out of Lordstown has surpassed expectations. GM had invested $350 million to retrofit the plant for the Cruze. The investment came on the heels of the top-selling Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. They had followed the Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire.

The Lordstown plant has become one of GM’s shining stars, not only because of the product, but because of the unmatched labor-management cooperation and community support.

The Mahoning Valley is on the move in the right direction, and commercial air service is an important aspect of the economic growth.

The state of Ohio should demonstrate the same level of confidence shown by the federal government and assist the Western Reserve Port Authority in bolstering the revenue guarantee for an airline.

It has been nine years since the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport offered daily service, but the region has undergone a major transformation since then.

With everything that’s going on, securing a commitment from an airline should not be a major challenge.

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