Any way you cut it, last WEEK wasn’t a good one for Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport. Two front-page stories in The Vindicator illustrated just how challenging it is to maintain the viability of a regional general-aviation airport.
First, there was the report that Allegiant Air, the sole commercial carrier serving Youngstown-Warren, was adding 17 new routes and services in two communities – neither in Vienna Township.
Year-round nonstop service will be available from Akron-Canton Regional Airport to Punta Gorda Airport starting in November. Allegiant will operate twice weekly out of Akron-Canton.
The airline also is adding year-round, nonstop service from Pittsburgh International Airport to Orlando Sanford International Airport starting Nov. 5.
“We knew it was coming,” said Dan Dickten, director of aviation at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. “Do I like it? No. But I have no control over that. We continue to go after more service here.”
What should be of concern about Allegiant’s addition of flights from Akron-Canton and Pittsburgh is that the airline has nonstop flights from Youngstown-Warren to Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Myrtle Beach and Punta Gorda.
It’s never a good thing for a regional airport that has had almost an exclusive relationship with an airline for leisure travel to certain destinations to now have competition from bigger airports that are within driving distance.
But Dickten is finding solace in the idea that Allegiant’s flights from Akron-Canton and Pittsburgh would, in the end, benefit Youngstown-Warren.
While the passenger count at the local airport is up by 4,000 from this time last year, Allegiant won’t make a commitment to expanding service to Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas.
“We’ve been serving the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport since 2008, and we have been pleased with our service there,” said Brandon Myers, a public relations specialist for Allegiant, in a statement. Myers added that the airline is “focused on the continued success of our current service from Youngstown.”
But while Allegiant says it has no immediate plans for new routes out of Youngstown, Dickten remains optimistic.
“It is slower than we thought, but we trust we will have those destinations here soon,” the director of aviation said.
While we appreciate Dickten looking at the glass as being half full, we believe there is cause for concern. If there comes a time when the airline must cut back on its flights out of this area of the country, Youngstown-Warren, as the smallest, would be on the bubble.
With that in mind, we urge Dickten and the Western Reserve Port Authority to do whatever is necessary to not only keep Allegiant from straying, but also to push for the Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas service.
MORE TROUBLES AT ADI
The second story that spotlighted the trials and tribulations of operating an airport had to do with the continuing saga of Aerodynamics Inc., which is interested in providing daily service between Chicago and Youngstown.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking a load of information from ADI, of Beachwood, Ohio, and Atlanta, as part of the federal government’s fitness and safety check before the airline is approved for operation of scheduled interstate passenger service.
Nonetheless, Dickten and the port authority support ADI’s plan to operate a Youngstown-Chicago route.
ADI’s past problems related to ownership and management have triggered the federal government’s review.
But now, questions are being raised about the air worthiness of some of its planes, raising another set of issues the federal transportation department must address.
Dickten insists that neither he nor the port authority would “bring in any unsafe operation” and points out that the DOT has not questioned the safety of the airline.
That may well be, but any issues raised about safety, even anonymously on the Internet, will cause the federal government to investigate.
“No one is better at vetting this all out than the Department of Transportation, so we are confident they will not provide the certification if they find the airline not fit and safe to operate,” Dickten said.
As we said at the outset, last week wasn’t a good one for the regional airport. We can only hope that the growing passenger count at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport continues.