By Ed Runyan
An aviation consultant to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, who predicted more than three years ago that Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland might lose its hub status, said Monday that Cleveland’s loss could be the Mahoning Valley’s gain.
“When you hear news about the Cleveland hub closure, although it’s not good for the city of Cleveland — losing an airline hub has a lot of negative connotations — it creates opportunities for the Mahoning Valley that we didn’t have before,” said Tom Reich, president of Air Service Partners of Alexandria, Va.
United Airlines announced last week that Cleveland would no longer be a hub airport, meaning United would no longer use the airport to connect passengers to airports around the world and would reduce its flights from 199 to 72 by June.
Reich said airlines have shown a “wait-and-see attitude” as to whether to start daily air service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, but that is changing now that the Cleveland announcement has occurred.
He said the loss of the Cleveland hub takes away one of the biggest arguments the airlines have made in the past for why they wouldn’t give Youngstown-Warren daily flights to a hub airport in Detroit, Washington, D.C. or Chicago.
“Now we can say people in the Mahoning Valley are going to be less likely to drive to Cleveland six months from now than they are today,” Reich said.
“As we continue to have conversations with these carriers, we’re hoping that in the next six months to a year, we have an announcement to make and that the Small Communities Air Service grant that the airport was awarded will be used to support that daily air service.”
The grant of $780,000 came from the Federal Aviation Administration to provide part of a $1.2 million revenue guarantee that airport officials think would get an airline to start daily air service. The money would be used to ensure that the airline didn’t lose money during the start-up phase.
YNGAir Partners, a volunteer community group with 42 members, formed a couple of years ago to help acquire the $420,000 needed to provide the matching money for the grant.
Denny Gartland, president of YNGAir Partners, said the group continues to contact foundations and grow in membership to secure the money and pledges of support for when the time comes to use the grant.
The Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the airport, called a special meeting Monday to talk to Reich about the Cleveland hub closing and to officials from the 910th Airlift Wing of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station about the May 17 and May 18 Thunder Over The Valley Air Show at the airport and Air Reserve Station.
Maj. Jay Ference of the Air Reserve Station and Holly Baker, a civilian and member of the air base community council, said the free show will feature the Thunderbird aerial demonstration team each day, but also will feature 11 civilian performers and eight to 10 demonstrations on the ground.
Among the acts are Gray Aerial — brothers who race each other — one on a motorcycle, the other in an aircraft flying upside-down.
Among the civilian acts that will fly will be an F4 Corsair and a P51 Mustang. On the ground, people will be able to see a C47 World War II aircraft. And among the aircraft that will be available for rides on May 16 — the day before the air show — will be B17 and B25 aircraft.
The United States Air Force will be able to provide only one-third of the funding that it provided for the 2009 show, so the base’s community council has begun talking to the community to secure sponsorships to raise about $200,000 to bridge the gap, Baker said.
Sponsorships will allow groups, such as companies, to create a picnic-like atmosphere that includes a 45-minute ride on a B-17 or B-25 or other amenities.
For information on the sponsorships, visit www.thunderoverthevalley.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.