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Airport officials seeking financial support for United flights

Published: Sat, March 29, 2014 @ 12:10 a.m.

Cities, counties asked to contribute to effort to get daily service

By Ed Runyan



Officials with Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport have begun to talk to local government bodies to solicit additional money they believe will be necessary to attract daily air service here.

Dan Dickten, director of aviation, said leaders from Warren, Youngstown, Sharon, and Trumbull and Mahoning counties have been approached about providing a share of the approximately $450,000 more that will be needed.

Warren City Council has scheduled a committee meeting for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the possibility of contributing $30,000 or more as its share.

The Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the airport, last week authorized contributing $420,000 as matching money for a $780,000 federal grant to provide United Airlines with a revenue guarantee. It would be used to guarantee the airline a profit during the initial months of operation.

But United has said having more than $1.2 million would be beneficial. An additional $450,000 would raise the total to more than $1.6 million, but Dickten is awaiting a more-concrete number from United.

He estimates $450,000 more might be enough based on the $2 million revenue guarantee the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority in Kansas has made available to United to start flights Jan. 7 between its Topeka Regional Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

The distance between Topeka and Chicago is 83 percent of the distance between the Vienna Township airport and Chicago, so the amount of revenue guarantee might be about 83 percent of the Topeka guarantee, Dickten said.

Warren Councilwoman Helen Rucker said she, for one, is in favor of providing Warren’s share of the guarantee because of the potential economic development and flying convenience of having two daily flights to and from Chicago.

“I’m excited about the project and ask Warren council to take the lead to donate $30,000,” Rucker said.

“I think it can happen, and it would be a significant benefit to Warren,” she said, adding that the expectation is that flights from the local airport would be similar in cost to those from Cleveland and Pittsburgh but with less driving and greater convenience.

Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally said Dickten sent him an email seeking the city’s participation in the guarantee, and he expects a meeting in the next few weeks to discuss the details with city council.

Dickten didn’t ask for a specific amount of money from the city, McNally said.

“I’m very interested in trying to help United Airlines come here,” McNally said. “But with council, I want to see what the guarantee is. We’re not making any promises at this point.”

Dan Polivka, a Trumbull County commissioner, said airport officials have approached the three Trumbull commissioners, “and everyone’s real supportive of the idea,” but it’s too early to say what Trumbull County’s participation might be.

Polivka said a flight to Chicago would be beneficial for business and vacation reasons, noting that Chicago is “a nice place to visit.”

Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said commissioners received a presentation Friday from YNGAir Partners, a nonprofit group supporting the airport, and will discuss the idea of contributing next week, but it would be difficult for Mahoning County to contribute because of its budgetary constraints.

“We’re always in support of expanding flights,” Traficanti said, adding there are a number of alternatives to pursue to raise the money, such as seeking matching federal funds.

Topeka began its service to Chicago in the midst of some of the worst winter weather in years, which is one reason flights during January were only about 25 percent full, but usage picked up this month with spring-break fliers, the Topeka, Kansas, Capital-Journal newspaper reported March 13.

Topeka is the capital city of Kansas with a population of about 128,000.

Topeka-O’Hare flights are one of three new routes United announced last fall, with similar services starting for State College, Pa., on Jan. 7 and for Elmira, N.Y., on Feb. 13. Topeka is similar to the Youngstown-Warren area in that it had no daily air service before United’s startup.

Meanwhile, Youngstown-Warren airport officials have received about 700 responses so far to a survey it is conducting on United’s behalf to gauge interest from local companies to using a Vienna-to-Chicago service, Dickten said. One Sharon-area steel company reported its workers made 574 flights in 2013 to Chicago, Dickten noted.

“The information coming across is strong. It should prove our demand,” Dickten said.

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