By Ed Runyan
The high price of aircraft fuel over the past year has resulted in a large drop in the number of recreational aircraft flying in and out of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
Michael Silvius, air-traffic manager for the Youngstown Air Traffic Control Tower at the airport, said Wednesday the number of flights is down 15.5 percent for January through June of this year compared with January through June of 2012.
Silvius gave a report to members of the Western Reserve Port Authority on Wednesday at the authority’s regularly monthly meeting.
Silvius, who’s been manager of the tower since October, said flight numbers aren’t lower for military or commercial flights, only the category called general aviation.
General aviation consists mostly of recreational fliers, though about 10 percent of the airport’s general aviation involves corporate flights. Corporate flights actually are increasing, said Dan Dickten, director of aviation at the airport.
Commercial flights to vacation destinations in Florida and South Carolina by Allegiant Air and to Atlantic City and Mississippi by Republic Airlines have continued to rise in recent years, allowing the airport to reach a milestone in June — 12,357 passengers, the most passengers using the airport since 1992.
But although each of those flights holds about 150 passengers, it counts as only one flight, the same as a recreational flight holding just a few people, Silvius noted.
The reduced number of flights could affect the future status of the control tower because the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the tower, looks strictly at aircraft activity in determining staffing levels or keeping facilities open or closed, he said.
The tower at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport is not in danger of closing, Silvius said, but the drop in flights is “kind of alarming,” he said, adding, “We need more planes flying.”
Silvius reiterated what Dickten has said in the past — that eliminating the midnight shift at the airport actually would improve the chances that the control tower will remain open into future years by improving efficiency.
The average number of aircraft using the airport during the midnight shift is about one aircraft every three midnight shifts, Silvius said.
The high cost of fuel apparently is also affecting flight numbers at two other nearby airports — the Akron Canton Regional Airport and Hopkins International in Cleveland.
Air traffic at Akron- Canton is down 4.3 percent for the first five months of 2013 compared with 2012. At Cleveland, it’s down 2.5 percent, Silvius said.
Higher fuel costs are not affecting those airports as much as Youngstown- Warren because they don’t have as many recreational fliers, Silvius said.