Airline and local airport explore options

Tribune Chronicle / Jon Wysochanski Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer of Southern Airways Express, left, talks with John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, Tuesday during a public meeting held at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

VIENNA — The chief commercial officer of a Memphis, Tenn.-based airline considering expanding its service to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport discussed Monday with local officials whether there is a market locally for it to provide flights.

The public forum at the airport in Vienna attended by Mark Cestari of Southern Airways Express was held to gauge the public’s interest in having new commercial service now that Allegiant Air is ending its flights in January.

The company, founded in 2013, is geared toward regional business travelers who fly out of smaller airports. It has 22 nine-seat planes.

It is exploring the idea of flights from the airport to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Baltimore and Detroit’s Coleman A. Young International Airport. The proximity of the airport in Baltimore to Washington, D.C., also creates the possibility for passengers to catch larger commercial airlines to other national and international destinations for leisure, Cestari said.

“After many conversations with (the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport) we focused our initial thinking to Detroit, where there are connections with the automobile industry and to the Washington market via our hub in Baltimore,” Cestari said.

John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees the airport, said Southern Airways is one option the airport is exploring. Although Allegiant Air is leaving, the airport intends to continue commercial service.

“We want connectivity and we are continually trying to generate new flight service and activity at this airport,” Moliterno said. “Southern Airways is viable, and it can work here, but we are still working out the details.”

James Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, asked if Southern Airways would consider flights to Columbus, a city business and government officials in the Mahoning Valley travel to hundreds of times per year. Cestari said Columbus hadn’t been considered, although it is a city to look into moving forward.

“I know many people that go to Columbus once or twice a week and it turns into a three-hour drive each way,” Kinnick said. “A flight to Columbus would appeal to me as would a flight to Baltimore when we conduct business in Washington a couple times a year. I don’t think people realize how convenient it is to catch a train from Baltimore to D.C.”

Southern Airways isn’t capable of offering flights to destinations west or south to states like Florida, a destination many have used Allegiant Air to travel to. It remains to be seen if people are interested in flying to Baltimore to catch a connector flight, or whether they will instead drive to Cleveland or Pittsburgh when Allegiant is gone, Cestari said.

“I think the community is anxious to continue air service at the Youngstown Airport and the airport folks are working hard to do that,” Cestari said. “We just have to figure out if our model and our price point works for Youngstown.”