By Kalea Hall and Ed Runyan
Though Youngstown- Warren Regional Airport officials were happy to hear Allegiant Air’s plan to move services from Akron to Cleveland, Akron-Canton officials were not so thrilled.
“I can’t tell you how disappointing it is when you lose a carrier,” said Rick McQueen, president and CEO of Akron-Canton Regional Airport. “The region has supported their service out here, but for whatever reason they think they can do better out of Cleveland.”
Allegiant announced Wednesday it would move its Akron-Canton service to Cleveland in February 2017. The Las Vegas-based airline will also add four new destinations to the six it will move from Akron to Cleveland.
“We’re very excited to announce this major growth in Northeast Ohio, a region that has demanded more low-cost, nonstop service to the wonderful vacation destinations we serve,” said Jude Bricker, Allegiant chief operating officer.
Allegiant is the only commercial airliner operating at the Valley airport, offering flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Orlando-Sanford, Punta Gorda and St. Pete-Clearwater in Florida.
“We looked at our passenger data and found that our travelers in Northeast Ohio were mostly coming from Cleveland. The move to Cleveland was made to better serve our passengers,” Allegiant Spokesman Brandon Myers told The Vindicator Wednesday. “Allegiant will continue to serve Youngstown travelers with its existing service.”
Youngstown’s flights to Punta Gorda took a seasonal hiatus Aug. 15. Allegiant’s planning team is still evaluating the route and determining its return, Myers said.
In Akron, Allegiant offered those same destinations as well as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Savannah, Ga. Allegiant started to offer flights to leisure destinations from the Akron airport in May 2015.
Cleveland is about 25 miles farther from Youngstown than Akron, and that is likely to bring back some passengers who have been using Akron- Canton instead of Youngstown, said Dan Dickten, director of aviation at the Vienna airport.
“With them being further out, we think it could help our cause,” Dickten said.
Studies have shown that Youngstown loses 9 percent of passengers to Akron-Canton, which isn’t that high, Dickten said. But where the local airline did see an impact in Allegiant adding service at Akron-Canton was in its parking-lot revenue.
Allegiant’s announcement came just two months after Spirit Airlines, another low-cost air carrier, announced it would start service at Akron.
Spirit will start service Nov. 10 from Akron-Canton to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport.
Spirit will launch service Nov. 11 to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla. Then, on April 27, 2017, seasonal service to Myrtle Beach International Airport will launch.
“We are concerned, but we think we can give them a good run for their money,” Dickten said of the Spirit service at Akron. “We hope that Allegiant will add service here.”
Spirit basically replaces the Allegiant service with more available flights, Seth Kaplan, industry analyst and managing partner of Airline Weekly, an industry publication.
Because Spirit’s offerings are a replacement to Allegiant, Kaplan doesn’t think the Youngstown airport will see much boost in flight sales here.
Kaplan believes Allegiant’s decision to leave Akron-Canton is “very much related” to Spirit coming in. With Spirit, the ultra-low cost market at Akron more than doubled, Kaplan said.
“All that new capacity from Spirit I am sure impacted the fare environment,” Kaplan said. “Sometimes the world changes and what you thought was your best opportunity is no longer that.”
Allegiant’s new flights at Cleveland are: Jacksonville, Fla. via the Jacksonville International Airport; Austin, Texas via the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; New Orleans via the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport; and Phoenix via the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Passengers with reservations on or after Feb. 15, 2017 from Akron-Canton Airport can be reticketed via Cleveland Hopkins or receive a full refund.
At the Western Reserve Port Authority’s board meeting Wednesday, board members went into executive session to discuss options with Great Lakes JetExpress, the daily Youngstown and Chicago service that lasted six weeks.
The port authority agreed to pay Great Lakes, which was run by Aerodynamics Inc., a revenue guarantee to help get the service started.
The port authority paid ADI $361,000 for July. The U.S. Department of Transportation reimbursed the port authority two-thirds of that cost – $240,902 – through a grant program.
ADI has now submitted a bill of $295,675 to cover the revenue guarantee for the August flights. The grant would also cover two-thirds of that cost, but the port authority has not decided whether to pay it.
The closed-door discussion Wednesday was about whether to hire outside attorneys to negotiate how much money will change hands in the “parting agreement” with ADI, said John Moliterno, authority executive director.