What will it take for the Valley to secure daily airline service?
There was an entry in the May 7 “Years Ago” column in The Vindicator that serves as a backdrop to what’s going on today in the Mahoning Valley:
“1939: W.A. Patterson, president of United Airlines, says his company will inaugurate service at Youngstown Municipal Airport as soon as the facility is ready to accommodate the line’s huge 24-passenger planes.”
The announcement and subsequent regular service over the next six decades were reflections of the region’s economic vitality tied to the expansive steel industry.
There was demand for business and leisure travel that United was all too happy to meet.
Fast-forward 75 years and the revelation last week that all the excitement in this area about the possibility of United re-starting regular service here was premature, at best.
Indeed, a spokeswoman for the airline made it clear to The Vindicator that United had not “changed its mind” about coming to the Valley, meaning that Dan Dickten, director of operations at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, had read too much into whatever conversations he had with airline officials.
Dickten has been unwavering in his contention that if the Mahoning Valley came up with a $1.65 million revenue guarantee, United would agree to fly in and out of the Valley airport.
The Western Reserve Port Authority, which governs the airport, has $1.2 million available, and a fundraising drive was launched for the rest. Dickten and other officials asked local governments for commitments and received several pledges, including one for $30,000 from the city of Warren.
Youngstown City Council was preparing to pledge about $40,000, but news of United’s decision not to fly here will delay that vote until another viable suitor emerges, according to Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally.
The fundraising received a major boost when the Cafaro Foundation committed $100,000, leaving a balance of $350,000.
NO SOLID BUSINESS CASE
But then came an email letter from Martin Kammerman, a representative of the airline, to airport officials, saying “there is not a solid business case for establishing service.”
But the nail in the coffin was Kammerman’s contention that United would need a revenue guarantee of $14 million over a two-year period — not the $1.65 to $1.7 million Dickten had established as the goal.
“The discrepancy between your revenue guarantee goals and our business requirements provide further pause for establishing service,” the airline rep wrote.
It should be pointed out that the figure cited by Dickten was in line with what other regions with airports similar in size to Youngstown-Warren are paying in revenue guarantees for regular airline service.
It is also noteworthy that United Airlines has been hit by economic turbulence recently — it lost $489 million in the first quarter of 2014 — has experienced poor results from startups and is experiencing a pilot shortage.
Such extenuating circumstances had to have influenced United’s decision, which leads us to conclude that Dickten and the Western Reserve Port Authority should continue their search for a commercial carrier.
We’ve consistently argued that a vibrant airport served by a major carrier or its subsidiary is essential for the economic revival of the Mahoning Valley.
Thus, the question: What will it take to persuade a major airline to provide regular service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport?
The obvious answer is a show of support from the public and private sectors in the Valley. Financial support is essential, but so is the commitment from businesses and individuals to use the airline for their travel needs.
The decision by United should not dissuade area leaders from continuing their search for airline service.