Vienna airport could gain from Cleveland’s loss

VIENNA – The upcoming exodus of United Airlines’ hub from Cleveland Hopkins Airport could open new doors for daily service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, an air service consultant told the airport’s governing board Monday.

Conversations with commercial carriers that could bring daily service to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport frequently focus on concerns about the number of passengers that prefer to drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, Tom Reich, an air service development consultant for the Western Reserve Port Authority, explained to the port authority and members of the public gathered in the airport conference room Monday.

But United Airlines’ announcement earlier this month that beginning in June it will be pulling its hub from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and cut its Cleveland flights by more than 60 percent, could alleviate that concern by airlines considering adding flights to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

“Whenever you hear news about the Cleveland hub closure, although it’s not good for the city of Cleveland, and losing an airline hub has a lot of negative connotations to that, it creates opportunities for the Mahoning Valley that we didn’t have before, and as we go forward that should be a step in the right direction,” Reich said.

Reich delivered a similar message during a meeting in Vienna three years ago, when he accurately predicted that the United-Continental merger would lead to the closure of United’s Cleveland hub. At that time, Reich had noted that such a closure would put the Youngstown airport in position to benefit from the moves being made by the larger players.

The Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport has been without daily service for more than a decade. It last operated in 2003 to a hub of a major U.S. airline.

A $780,000 grant from the Department of Transportation available for use as an airline revenue guarantee also enhances the attractiveness of moving a commercial hub to Vienna.

The grant, however, must be met with a 35 percent local match, totaling about $420,000.

“Unless your market is something they (airlines) decided to fly on their own and they call you up and say ‘we are coming,’ which happens very rarely, then they are looking for a revenue guarantee,” Reich said.

Airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten said last month at least one airline has sought information from the U.S. Department of Transportation about using the grant money. He declined to identify the airline.

YNG Air Partners, a community group established in 2011 to offer community financial and public relations support to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, is working to raise the local match, but so far says it has quite a ways to go.

“We are a team effort. We have about 250 businesses that we have to contact to try to raise this 35 percent,” YNG Air Partners President Dennis Gartland of Cortland, said Monday. “I think with our organization growing and the number of people getting involved in this community, this will help the program.”

The group is planning various fundraisers and grant-writing campaigns to help secure the local match.