Port can use track record in talks with new airlines

Success achieved by Allegiant Air over the past 11 years should help Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport officials prove to other airlines that operating out of this small airport can be profitable.

In fact, many travelers believe the convenience of traveling out of a small airport far outweighs the challenges of navigating the crowds, lengthy concourses and expensive parking at large ones.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air announced Aug. 24 it would end its non-stop, discount leisure flights from YNG to vacation destinations in Florida and South Carolina. The airline is opting, instead, to maintain service at nearby Cleveland Hopkins and Pittsburgh International airports.

It’s unfortunate that Allegiant has made the decision to trade the conveniences here for the hustle and bustle of larger airports like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, particularly when it was the small airports that helped the carrier achieve its growing success. In fact, early in the relationship, the Vienna-based airport was Allegiant’s fastest-growing service area, local officials have said.

Now, however, Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport again faces a familiar situation of heading back to the drawing board to convince and lure a new airline here. Some aviation experts believe that will come in the form of a startup, commuter or vacation destination service offering flights similar to those offered by Allegiant.

Challenges, of course, come with the fact that Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport is located within an hour’s drive of three other airports. Lately, that nearby competition has attracted smaller airlines with affordable fares, like Frontier and Spirit, prompting travelers to make the trip to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron. In June, Allegiant experienced a 35 percent drop in Youngstown travelers, compared to the same time last year. The number of local flights offered by Allegiant also was declining, making it more difficult to achieve the same number of passengers. The numbers show there were 225 Allegiant flights through July 2016, but only 147 through July of this year.

Still, what stacks up in the Vienna airport’s favor is the lengthy record of proven success that Allegiant has experienced since arriving here in 2006. Airport officials point out this facility was outperforming other airports used by Allegiant, and it is less expensive for the air carrier. It’s that financial bottom line that no doubt is the driving factor for airlines making location decisions.

Here’s a glimpse at some other positives that can be taken away from the support that local travelers gave to Allegiant during its tenure here: Allegiant carried a successful and profitable load factor — the percentage of seats filled on an aircraft — averaging 85 on its local flights for many years. And in 2015, for example, the carrier flew 434 flights in and out of YNG. That’s a sign that passengers are eager to use the local airport if the flights are available and the price is right.

Even after the local airport’s failure last year to maintain the Great Lakes JetExpress daily flights to Chicago, we still believe logistical issues like baggage transfers and booking challenges — not lack of travelers — were the contributing factors.

Now airport officials are starting over again by actively talking to airlines that cater to markets not served by the airlines at nearby airports. The Vienna facility, certainly, also should consider other options, including continuing to cater to smaller, private aircraft and cargo transports. Trumbull and Mahoning county commissioners, who manage the tax fund allocations used for operations at the airport, must be included in discussions about the future. The public also should be called upon via comprehensive market research to accurately identify the needs of the traveling public.

The bottom line is that, although discouraging, the airport must continue doing its homework and must continue its fight, this time including successful examples accomplished by Allegiant.