VIENNA - The decade-long effort to bring daily flights back to the Youngstown-Warren Regional airport is closer to fruition than ever before.
Wednesday, officials at the local airport were doing all they could to make it a reality.
The Western Reserve Port Authority and airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten set into motion a survey of the travel needs of local businesses, promised to provide the $420,000 local match to a federal grant that would guarantee an airline's profitability, and allocated funds to purchase a regional jet passenger boarding bridge and to continue upgrades to airport parking.
All these things are intended to help lure United Airlines and its daily passenger service from YNG to Chicago O'Hare. Local airport and economic development officials met last week in Chicago with United officials.
The survey of local business travelers being undertaken in the coming weeks will question things like travel destinations, travel budget, usage of first-class fare and what airlines the travelers use most, and was requested by United.
"We are ready to go. They just need more data," Dickten said. "We are highly encouraged that United has agreed to work with us to look at the potential of re-establishing daily air service here."
United last flew out of Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in 1999. Daily service stopped with other airlines in 2003, largely due to economic decline of the steel industry and the loss of federal grant money to help maintain profitability of airlines at that time, Dickten said.
With an ongoing uptick in the local economy and local manufacturing and development of the oil and gas industry, along with the closure of all major airline hubs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Dickten believes the area will be able to support daily service.
The potential is rare in an age when airlines are merging and scaling back, trimming the number of flights to operate with the greatest efficiency.
"The economic well-being of the Mahoning Valley can't reach its potential until the return of daily service at this airport," Dickten said.
Passengers already have been flocking to the airport for flights to vacation destinations offered by Allegiant Airlines. Eight Allegiant flights from YNG sold out in February, leading the company to switch to a larger aircraft here, Dickten said.
Dickten said the airport also is exploring the addition of several other destinations by Allegiant, including Las Vegas, West Palm Beach, Mesa and New Orleans.
Additional efforts to ready the airport for a future with daily passenger service include the continued upgrades of the parking lot and the planned purchase of a boarding bridge.
The port authority voted unanimously to allocate $200,000 for purchase of a passenger boarding bridge, contingent on the announcement by an airline to add daily service using a regional jet.
The board also voted unanimously to allocate $111,000 for the project being awarded to Kirala Contractors of Brookfield for continued upgrades to Phase II of the parking area. About 450 parking places exist now, with the addition of 100 more expected in the next phase.
Dickten said airport officials were questioned by United about the parking facilities.
"They were very happy to see we were proactive at expanding the parking lot," Dickten said.
Dickten said the airport continues to pursue the possibility of shuttle service that could be used by the oil and gas industry from YNG to cities like Houston or Oklahoma City.
"We are discussing that possibility, not just with United, but with anyone who wants to do it," Dickten said.