Due diligence needed in luring flights

Once again officials at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport are in the midst of what seems to be never-ending attempts to lure airlines to the struggling local airport.

It wasn’t that long ago and after years with no regularly scheduled commercial service, that members of Western Reserve Port Authority thought they had found the answer when they reached an agreement with Aerodynamics Inc., or ADI, to bring daily flights between Trumbull County and Chicago. The flights were known as the “Great Lakes JetExpress.” But it was only weeks into the contract when logistical issues like baggage transfers and booking challenges came to light that ultimately led to the cancellation of the contract.

Just months later, Allegiant Air, which had found a successful niche that worked well here for years, announced its plans to pull out of Vienna as well.

It would not be unexpected if the one-two punch led officials there to throw up their hands and admit defeat. But rather, Aviation Director Dan Dickten and others involved went right back to the drawing board in new attempts to find a startup service that could grow into something that fits this Vienna airport.

For that we applaud them.

That does not mean, however, that we are ready to jump on the bandwagon for any airline that shows interest in the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. Officials must stand their ground to ensure they are finding the right fit.

Let’s not forget that with the aging local market here comes many passengers who take up winter residence in the southern states. Myrtle Beach and parts of Florida are popular vacation destinations for local families. Today, months after Allegiant’s pullout was announced, we regularly hear residents lament the impending loss, and thus we still see great opportunities for success with that market niche.

Research is now being done to determine whether Southern Airways Express, a small Tennessee-based service, would be successful operating regular flights from Vienna to Baltimore or Detroit.

That service may be the right answer for Vienna, or it may not. But the fact remains that it is the airport — not just the airline — that must conduct its due diligence and ensure that it is making the right decision. We understand the desire for urgency in bringing new flight service here, but after the last debacle that has resulted in civil action, wasted federal startup dollars and lots of frustration by all those involved — including travelers — we hope the port authority has increased its level of caution.

While it is impossible to guarantee success of any new business, steps must be taken to verify that promises made by any airline are authentic.

The failure of ADI to ensure conveniences that travelers today demand — seamless baggage transfers and ease of online bookings — should be a lesson.

We hope the port authority officials think hard about the options and know that there is a valid opportunity for the flights to be used before any agreement is inked. The Vienna facility, certainly, also should consider other options, including continuing to cater to smaller, private aircraft and cargo transports.

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, and we urge the airport to continue seeking a replacement of Allegiant’s vacation flights that worked so well here for many years.

The key will be finding a solution with a high probability of success rather that one that just quickly fills a void.