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See value of Port Authority

March 27, 2012
By JAMES PIRKO , Tribune Chronicle |

The people and politicians of our Valley should be aware of the value of our Western Reserve Port Authority and our Youngstown Warren Regional Airport, known to aviators as YNG. Since it was built during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, our airport has hosted some famous and popular airlines, flying destinations throughout the country and the world.

In 1992, the WRPA was established to run the Youngstown Municipal Airport, relieving Youngstown of its duty to own, operate and subsidize this airport. It makes sense for this regional resource to be managed regionally, by an eight-member board appointed by the commissioners of Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

The U.S. Air Force established an airbase here, stationing C-119 Flying Boxcars, A-37 Dragonfly fighters, and now the C-130 Hercules. This airbase has landed the impressive B-52 Stratofortress and C-5A Galaxy and hosted public air shows with the precision flying of the Air Force Thunderbirds and an array of historic aircraft.

Our airbase has the economic impact of a good-sized factory, bringing upward of $100 million into our region's economy. Protecting this asset must be a priority, especially with federal budget cuts and BRAC base downsizing and closings. Our airbase has managed to survive because we offer some unique advantages and cost savings for the military, with a five-way working partnership.

The Air Force provides air crash and rescue service. WRPA provides two well-maintained runways, measuring more than 5,000 feet and 9,000 feet. The Federal Aviation Administration provides air traffic control and funding, because our airport is classified as a commercial airport. Allegiant Air provides the flights needed to qualify YNG as an FAA commercial airport. Winner Aviation provides the ground operations for Allegiant. For this to work, we need all of these partners operating in a way that makes financial sense.

In 2005, we almost lost it all, with a lack of commercial air traffic and a round of BRAC base closings in process. Two private entities stepped forward. SOAR (Save Our Airbase Reservists) with our Regional Chamber focused on preserving our airbase, successfully. Trumbull 100 provided a grant to the local marketing firm Rubenstein Associates to bring commercial air traffic back to YNG.

I served on Rubenstein's team, researching the airline industry, identifying, profiling and targeting the airlines with the best probability of choosing YNG. Commercial aviation was suffering hard times, with oil prices driving up their fuel costs and disruptions following Sept. 11, 2001. Most of the airlines were downsizing and dropping routes.

Allegiant Air was my top draft pick, with their business model using regional airports that fit YNG's profile. In an industry beset with losses and cutbacks, Allegiant was profitable and growing their market toward our area. We landed them and have a recurring success, with added flights and aircraft filled in the high-90-percent range.

Director of Aviation Dan Dickten is working on attracting more airlines and flights to connect YNG to more destinations. A citizens' organization, YNGAir Partners, has formed to support these efforts.

WRPA's potential goes beyond the Airport, able to serve every community in our two-county region. In 2007, I presented a proposal to WRPA and Congressman Tim Ryan's office for WRPA to become the "concrete and steel" component of regional economic development. The powers of a port authority include issuing bonds, acquiring real estate, constructing buildings and providing air, railroad, water and road transportation facilities.

Congressman Tim Ryan took the lead and worked with WRPA to build its capacity to handle these tasks. They brought Rose Ann DeLeon from the Cleveland Port Authority to serve as executive director, and she has been working on numerous projects, including V&M Star, for the past two years.

Within the past few months, WRPA hired Sarah Lown to work on industrial sites for industries and is working with Dan Mamula from the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative and All Aboard Ohio's RESTORE project for railroad freight.

Our Port Authority is playing a vital role in our region's economy, which is a value worth supporting.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident.



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