Youngstown to Chicago flights grounded


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KALEA HALL

khall@vindy.com

VIENNA

The last Great Lakes JetExpress flight landed at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport from Chicago O’Hare Wednesday evening.

A few hours later, Aerodynamics Inc., or ADI, the company that launched the flights, sent out a press release on the service coming to an abrupt end.

Passengers with reservations on flights from Youngstown and Chicago should call Great Lakes Airlines reservations line at 1-800-554-511 or email refunds@flygreatlakes.com to process refunds. ADI said passengers “will not be penalized for the termination of service.”

The service was expected to end after the Western Reserve Port Authority announced at a meeting Aug. 17 it would cease funding it, but a date for the last flights wasn’t announced until late Wednesday.

“The reluctance of the WRPA Board to come to a reasonable ceasing of operations and services leaves ADI with no option other than to discontinue air service immediately,” the press release reads.

A flight was scheduled to take off at 8:35 a.m. today , according to the flight schedule.

Mickey Bowman, senior vice president and chief operating officer at ADI, would not comment outside of the press release.

The WRPA board wished for the flights to stop as soon as possible.

The flights launched July 1 with the marketing campaign of connecting Youngstown to the world. It was a historic moment for the airport, which hadn’t seen a daily service operating in 14 years.

The WRPA board believed the airline had an interline agreement with United Airways.

Before the Youngstown/Chicago flights started, ADI entered into a code share and hosting agreement with Great Lakes Airlines. The agreement permits ADI to use Great Lakes’ established interline agreements for ticketing and baggage with major legacy carriers in Chicago.

But United removed the Great Lakes JetExpress tickets from its website just nine days after the flights started because it did not have an interline agreement with the operating carrier, ADI, but with the marketing carrier, Great Lakes.

“The interline agreement we thought we had, we didn’t,” said Dan Dickten, director of aviation for the Vienna airport. “We were told there would be a resolution on that and there wasn’t and we knew it was going to fail.”

Dickten said there was no reluctance on the board’s side to end the service. A meeting is to take place at 10 a.m. Friday at the airport and a plan to end the service was to be discussed.

“We have already told them that we were ceasing the funding,” Dickten said. “We weren’t going to continue to pay for service that was losing money and not attracting passengers.”

The airport used a $1.2 million revenue guarantee for Aerodynamics to operate the service in partnership with Great Lakes. Of the $1.2 million, $780,000 is federal grant funding and $420,000 comes from the local hotel-bed tax fund and other sources. Local airport supporters are still raising more of a local share to support the service.

ADI has received more than $361,000 for operating the service. The DOT reimburses the airport 65 percent of that amount from the federal grant.

During July, seats on the 49-seat Embraer ERJ-145 jet weren’t filling to expectations. On average, seats were 31 percent filled. Bowman and others wanted to see seats at least 45 percent filled.

The goal was to sell enough tickets to hit 85 to 90 percent of seats filled. At that rate, ticket sales would be $8,500 per day, and the service would have been profitable.

The Great Lakes JetExpress offered flights 10 times a week and connected with jetBlue Airways, Delta and American Airlines. But the missing United connection caused the service to miss out on 60 percent of the market, Dickten explained.

“We would never had started ticket sales had we known that there wouldn’t be an interline agreement with United Airlines,” he said.

It took ADI two years to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate the daily service out of Chicago, partly because of a change in leadership at the airline after the DOT listed concerns it had with the former CEO.

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