Government

Regional Airport Awaits Word on Daily Service

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VIENNA, Ohio — The status of scheduled daily flight service at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport remains in a holding pattern, but the airport’s director of aviation can point to other signs of progress at the airport here.

The airport awaits approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation of the new ownership of Aerodynamics Inc., which has applied to provide daily service to and from Chicago. The carrier met the early June deadline for submitting documents that detail the change of ownership, a requirement the agency set based on issues involving its former owner and CEO.

Approval of the service, targeted to the business market, would put the Youngstown-Warren airport “back on the map with respect to our community being connected basically to the rest of the business world,” says Dan Dickten, aviation director at the airport since April 2010.

Dickten was drawn to his job by the challenge it posed, he says. The airport had lacked daily service since 2003 and once an airport loses carriers, convincing other airlines to fill the void is difficult.

The number of passengers who use the airport has more than quadrupled since Dickten’s arrival. Last year, that number – both boardings and exits – was 129,771, a 38% increase from the 2013 total and more than 4½ times the 27,717 total boardings in 2010. Through May, passenger count is already more than 4,000 above the same period last year.

The bulk of that is from Allegiant Travel Co., the flier to vacation destinations that began providing service nine years ago.

“We knew there was demand for low-cost, nonstop travel from Youngstown area travelers and we were pleased to enter the market in May of 2006 to meet that demand,” says Brandon Myers, spokesman for Allegiant.

Allegiant offers seasonal service to Myrtle Beach and year-round service to Orlando/Sanford, southwestern Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

Youngstown-Warren officials communicate “almost daily” with Allegiant, which considers the airport and the Mahoning Valley a “very important part” of Allegiant’s family, Dickten remarks. “We’re still being considered for additional destinations, hopefully another destination to the south, and hopefully one to the west shortly, the one that everybody keeps asking about, Las Vegas.”

Allegiant is “always evaluating new route opportunities in the markets we currently serve” but there are “no immediate plans for expanded service” from Youngstown-Warren, Myers says.

Physical upgrades at the airport in recent years include $5 million in improvements to the terminal itself, plus construction of two 14-unit T-hangars for general aviation aircraft, Dickten reports. During The Business Journal’s visit, work was performed on a new boarding bridge.

“We have really beautified the inside of this hold room,” he adds. New seating has been added to the hold area, which has been repainted and will get new carpeting. A new snack bar has been added as well. “Prior to that, there was no food or drink concessions here inside security and we’ve taken care of that,” he says.

The airport has expanded and improved its parking area, a major source of revenue for the operation. Last year the airport took in more than $400,000 from parking, up from less than $100,000 in 2010.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to grow that,” Dickten says. This year, parking revenue could reach $500,000 “if we keep up the growth that we’ve had in the past few years,” he predicts.

The addition of the new T-hangars has pulled small aircraft from the large hangars at the airport, freeing space for the airport’s fixed-base operator, Winner Aviation, “to go after the larger, corporate-type jets and they’re very aggressively working that end,” Dickten says.

Winner Aviation’s jet maintenance business has grown 100% over the past two years, reports Neil Gallagher, president.

Winner Aviation is discussing expansion, a new building that would be attached to Hangar 1 at the airport, and a complete rehabilitation of the hangar itself. The company now has more than 100 employees spread across the airport. “This would bring all those people under one roof so there’s a synergy factor that will create a lot of efficiency for us,” he says. The project will also provide the “curb appeal” necessary to attract new customers, he adds.

Pictured: Dan Dickten, aviation director at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.