By Kalea Hall
WRPA execs speak on Allegiant leaving
John Moliterno, Western Reserve Port Authority executive director, and Dan Dickten, director of aviation at Western Reserve Port Authority, discuss Allegiant leaving the Valley and find a new commercial airliner for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
While the community laments the loss of Allegiant Air from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, airport officials say they are in talks with other airlines to bring commercial service back.
“Our main concern is the community. That’s who we serve,” said John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees airport operations.
Airport officials know the small Vienna Township airport will never be Pittsburgh International Airport, but they also know the importance of offering some commercial service to the public.
Discussions on bringing in new service aren’t happening with major network carriers but with smaller carriers.
The goal is to get Mahoning Valley residents to destination places, and beyond, through connecting flights.
“What we want to do is make it convenient for our people,” Moliterno said. “Airports everywhere struggle to stay alive and continually have to reinvent themselves.”
On Aug. 25, the community learned that after 11 years of service, Allegiant would stop offering flights out of Youngstown. The airline offers flights to Orlando, Tampa, Myrtle Beach and Punta Gorda, which has been on hiatus despite the airport’s claim of its high popularity.
Airport Aviation Director Dan Dickten received a call Aug. 18 from Allegiant telling him all service would end.
Dickten contacted Moliterno, and they decided to hold off on telling the public until receipt of something official in writing from the airline.
“We aren’t going to yell ‘fire’ into a crowded theater to a community that has supported an airline for 11 years without a more definitive response from the airline,” Moliterno said. On Aug. 25, however, media reports surfaced reporting Allegiant was leaving Jan. 4.
“They got the date before I did,” Dickten said.
Airport officials saw Allegiant’s flights and number of passengers declining, but as recently as June, they say, Allegiant was still in discussions with them about bringing back the Punta Gorda service.
“There was no indication that they intended to jump ship,” Dickten said.
Allegiant leaving will translate to a loss in airport revenue, but there will still be lots of activity taking place there with charter and private flights.
“They are probably less than 5 percent [of the operations],” Moliterno said.
The loss of revenue from Allegiant is not “a crippler,” Moliterno explained. The money the airport gets from having Allegiant comes from the parking lot.
Allegiant passengers make up about 60 to 70 percent of the parking revenue.
“We know we need to make that loss up,” Moliterno said.
In 2014, the airport brought in the most in the past five years with parking revenue of $390,801. In 2016, that total was $315,081. Through July, the airport has collected $143,504 in parking revenue and is budgeted to bring in just $221,828 for 2017.
The port authority receives funds from both Mahoning and Trumbull counties through a hotel bed tax.
In 2016, of the nearly $1.5 million in hotel bed tax allocated to the port authority, about $1.25 million was received by the airport.
From 2009 to 2016, Mahoning County has sent $7,834,459 to the port authority in bed-tax funds.
Trumbull County sent $3,089,763 in bed-tax funds to the port authority those same years.
What’s received from the counties each year funds about half the revenue for the airport’s $2.2 million budget.
Other revenue in addition to parking fees includes operational fees, hangar rentals and terminal leases.
On the expense side, a look at the airport’s budget for this year shows spending on people and maintenance for airport operations.
The airport expects to spend more than $330,000 for financing construction of two T-Hangar facilities, a stand-by generator for the terminal, construction of a wheeled-vehicle maintenance facility, the acquisition of an air cargo facility, the replacement of water and sewer lines and other improvements.
The airport expects to spend a little more than $200,000 this year on audit, legal, engineering, airline consulting and other third-party services.
For employee services – items such as payroll, office supplies, license and membership fees, postage and maintenance – the airport expects to spend more than $986,000 this year.
The struggle to get new commercial service is felt by all small airports.
Last year, airport officials were ecstatic to bring in the first daily, nonstop service to the airport in 14 years with Aerodynamics Inc’s. Great Lakes Jet Express. But after a month of service, it ended service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport because of low ticket sales.
Now, the airport is in litigation with Aerodynamics Inc., also known as ADI, and will meet with a mediator next month.
When Allegiant first came to Youngstown in 2006, the low-cost carrier was pulling in customers from 200 miles away because its inexpensive flights weren’t yet offered at the larger Cleveland Hopkins International and Pittsburgh International airports.
Fast forward to 2013 and Youngstown began to experience a slowdown of customers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and elsewhere because of the overlap of low-cost service.
Today, low-cost carriers are fighting for customers.
“Just the fact that they [Allegiant] were here for 11 years is a big deal,” Dickten said.
Airport officials plan to continue to work on getting new commercial service despite it being a hard task to accomplish.
“We are going to be honest about it – we are not having that conversation with United, or Delta or American,” Moliterno said. “Quite honestly they don’t fit the model that works here.
“The model that works here is smaller airport to smaller airport,” Moliterno added. “The model that works here is to destinations. It’s vacation destinations or places that people want to go to.”
That said, neither Moliterno nor Dickten were eager to share which airlines were involved in talks.
“There’s an airline we are working with right now,” Dickten said. “I’d love to tell who that is, but we can’t go on record with it at this time.”
A commercial airline still fits in the plan at the local airport, they agreed.
“This community deserves an airline,” Moliterno said. “If we thought the cost of doing this was prohibitive we wouldn’t do it. We are never going to be Cleveland or Pittsburgh. We want to keep what we have.”