By Kalea Hall
Though a shock was felt by some on Friday when Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air revealed it would end its service to the Mahoning Valley in January, The Vindicator in recent months has reported the decline in the local airport’s only commercial airline’s service.
That decline at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport came amid new service announcements by Allegiant for larger airports across the United States.
In addition, Allegiant offered less attractive travel durations from Youngstown. For example, it changed flights to Sanford, Fla., from a Thursday-to-Tuesday duration to a Friday night-to-Monday-morning duration.
The combination of factors has had a big impact on travelers choosing where to fly from this year.
Flights at the Vienna Township airport are down 35 percent so far this year. Allegiant flew 225 flights from January through July 2016 and 147 for the same months this year.
That, in turn, led to a 39 percent decrease in passengers: 42,223 passengers flew on Allegiant flights out of Youngstown through July this year compared with 68,844 through July last year.
A main reason cited for the decrease is the loss of the Punta Gorda, Fla., service, which was put on hiatus in August 2016.
Airport officials fought to get it back, but the service was added to other airports.
Allegiant adding service in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Akron-Canton Airport also impacted the local airport. Allegiant stopped the Akron-Canton service when it entered Cleveland.
“Demand is down because you don’t have to drive as far if you are closer to Pittsburgh or Cleveland,” said Dan Dickten, director of aviation for the airport.
Allegiant came to the Youngstown airport in 2006 with service to Sanford/Orlando, Fla. In 2011, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and St. Petersburg, Fla., flights were added. In 2013, the local airport received its fourth Allegiant flight to Punta Gorda.
From 2009 to 2014, the Youngstown airport was Allegiant’s fastest-growing service area.
Last year, for the first time since 2008, the airport saw a decline in the number of year-over-year passengers. The number of Allegiant passengers has declined every month this year there.
But the airport says its number of passengers filling planes remains high, averaging more than 85 percent full this year.
“Allegiant appears to have decided to pursue a new business model for their airline that de-emphasizes smaller markets like Youngstown,” said John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees the airport.
But Brett Snyder, founder of Crankyflier, an airline industry blog, says Allegiant’s model isn’t changing, but rather growing.
The low-cost carrier began with one aircraft and one route in 1999 and has grown to more than 85 aircraft and 350 routes in the U.S.
“There’s no question they have grown. Allegiant doesn’t have loyalty,” Snyder said. “If the market doesn’t work, they just walk away. [If] they don’t make money they walk away.”
Smaller airports, Snyder explained, have struggled for years for several reasons.
“You just have a lot of things that make smaller, shorter air service less attractive,” Snyder said.
Regulatory costs and fuel costs have led airlines to hone in on where they can make the most money.
Also, aircraft and pilots aren’t in large supply.
“It all kind of adds together,” Snyder said. “People have just accustomed themselves to driving to the bigger airports.”
Bob Mann, airline industry analyst, doesn’t see it getting better for smaller airports.
“Airlines are in a sellers’ market and they pick and choose where they want to serve,” he said. “I think Youngstown is just an example to what is happening at scores of airports throughout the country.”
The Vienna airport has it worse than other airports given its proximity to Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
“Before you may have people driving from Cleveland because it was so much cheaper,” Snyder said. But now they can fly Allegiant from Cleveland and Pittsburgh, he noted.
The airport will lose revenue after Allegiant leaves, but airport officials say the charter and private planes coming in will keep it viable and active.
“This airport will survive without passenger service,” Dickten said. “We will definitely have to reduce our budget.”
Dickten said the revenue loss will be seen in parking- lot fees.
“There are a ton of airports that don’t have commercial service,” Snyder said. “They can thrive on being local private airports.”
Airport officials plan to continue working on getting commercial service for the airport and are in talks with another low-cost carrier.
“There’s so much competition in this area,” Dickten said. “We did a pretty good job to hang on to the four destinations we had. We were happy to have them here for an 11-year run. It made it possible for a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to [afford] to travel to travel — and we want to return to that.”