For the first time in many years, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport finds itself on solid ground to land daily service from a major commercial airline. Negotiations are moving forward fast toward attracting at least two daily United Airlines flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, which would then provide connections to virtually anywhere in the world.
The optimism is fueled by unprecedented growth, expansion and improvements at the regional airport over the past five years and by a demonstrated need for daily flights here. But as of today, there remains no firm guarantee from United to start the service.
That’s why the public and private sectors in our region must work cooperatively and aggressively in the home stretch to seal the deal by proving to United that its proposed service would be wanted, needed and self-sustaining.
Officials with the regional airport are contacting local government leaders to solicit additional funding to serve as a revenue guarantee in exchange for the airline’s risk-taking in starting service. Already, about $1.2 million is in place through federal grants and an allocation from the Western Reserve Port Authority, the public body that oversees airport operations.
Daniel Dickten, director of YNG aviation, said public officials have been approached about providing a share of the approximately $450,000 more that he and others estimate will be needed to finalize the agreement.
Warren City Council plans to meet Tuesday to discuss the possibility of contributing $30,000 or more as its share. We’d urge other local governments to consider following Warren’s lead.
Of course, given the tight budget constraints many cities, villages, townships and other local governments are enduring, we’d also urge the airport to solicit additional funding appeals from grant sources and the private sector.
This time around, investment in growth at the airport clearly is not pie-in-the-sky pipedreaming. The airport has matured significantly over the past decade.
Consider passenger loads. In 2003, the airport carried a mere 16,000 passengers. In 2013, the airport load levels had soared to 95,000 with estimates for this year set to rise above 125,000. Much of that growth has come from the success of Allegiant Airlines vacation service to resort towns in Florida and South Carolina.
Consider airport improvements. YNG has made substantial enhancements to its facility in recent years, including its current project to enlarge its low-cost parking lot by 500 spaces. Other improvements have included remodeling the terminal, drainage and roof repairs, construction of a rental-car parking facility, security upgrades, addition of a passenger boarding bridge and repaving of airport entrances.
Finally, consider demand. The airport has received about 700 responses so far from Valley businesses to a survey it is conducting to gauge interest from companies to using Youngstown-to-Chicago service, Dickten said. Businesses that have not yet filled out the short survey should do so promptly at the airport’s website.
Finally, consider the convenience. With the loss of major hubs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, most passengers from the Valley would not get nonstop flights anyway after driving 60-plus miles to those airports. For the same price as a ticket from Cleveland to Chicago, hundreds of thousands of Valley residents could also avoid the hassles of maneuvering through crowded large terminals and paying substantially higher prices for parking and other services.
In short, the impact of United’s proposal would be lofty indeed. In addition to all of the above-mentioned assets, the daily service could add a significant lure to the Valley’s growing grab bag of enticements to spur economic development. As such, Greater Youngstown should rally around this project to ensure it takes off by year’s end.