ADI Execs Touch Down to Announce Passenger Service

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Returning to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport Tuesday morning from a business trip to Florida, Josh Moon of Erie, Pa. was intrigued at the prospect of being able to catch a flight to Chicago from the airport.

Moon, a pastor with the Pentecostal Church of God in Erie, flew on Allegiant Air from the airport and recently moved back to Pennsylvania from Chicago, and all of his belongings are still there in storage.

The flights, officially announced Tuesday, are “something that definitely I would be interested in,” he said as dignitaries were gathering outside the airport for a press event to launch the new passenger service.

A plane carrying executives with Aerodynamics Inc., the Atlanta-based carrier that will provide the service, landed at 11:25 a.m., about 35 minutes before the noon news conference to make the official announcement.

“It has been a long process as all of you know,” remarked Darrell Richardson, ADI’s CEO, president and chairman. “It has been almost two years in the works but I think we’re finally there.”

As recently as 1999, there were daily scheduled flights to Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh from the Vienna Township airport, noted Dan Dickten, director of aviation for the Western Reserve Port Authority. The airport has been without daily passenger service since Northwest Airlines halted its flights in 2002.

“To come back to an airport that’s lost daily service, it’s rare, and we were able to make our case,” Dickten said. Allegiant Air, which has provided scheduled service to leisure destinations for the past decade, helped the airport make its case, he said.

A tentative launch date of June 1 is set for the round-trip flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The new service will connect to flights serving more than 130 domestic and international destinations.

ADI is finalizing co-host agreements with carriers and ticket sales are expected to being the week of April 9, depending on getting additional co-hosting agreements in place, said Mickey Bowman, vice president of airline services. “We hope to be able to come back to you in a week to 10 days and have a press release regarding co-host agreements and [ticket] sale date,” he said,

Pricing on the flights will be competitive with flights connecting to Chicago out of airports in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron, with the lowest price for a one-way trip in the $99 range running up to $250, he said.

The schedule will begin with two round-trip flights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with single flights the remaining days of the week. The Embraer aircraft that will be used for the service has a 50-seat capacity but will be configured to seat 49 passengers.

That is due to the requirements of the Small Community Air Service Development grant the airport received to subsidize the service in its startup phase, Bowman said. “It’s actually written for airplanes under 50 seats so we literally have to limit our sale to 49 seats to meet the grant criteria,” Bowman said.

The airport received a $1.2 million grant to use as a revenue guarantee to ensure that the new service is profitable “until it sustains itself,” at which point the funds will be cut off, Dickten said.

“But $1.2 million doesn’t really go that far with respect to flights and how expensive fuel is these days,” he continued. YNGAir Partners, a nonprofit group formed to support the airport, has a fundraising campaign under way to supplement the grant.

“Whatever we have left over, we’ll use for marketing and advertising as well,” Dickten said. “Anything left over from that, we’ll put into a second destination. That’s something we’re hoping to do within the next year.”

Representatives of the business community who attended Tuesday’s event are eager for the startup of the new service.

“This is a big day for the Mahoning Valley and the Shenango Valley,” remarked Ron Klingle, chairman of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which operates the airport.

“Having the ability to leave from Youngstown or Warren and go anyplace in the world is a major thing for the convenience, for our economy and the whole community, and also to have the rest of the world have the ability to come here to Youngstown is just as important,” Klingle said. “And from an economic development point of view, this can be one of the most important things that we’ve seen in our community in the last 20 years or so.”

Klingle, who also is CEO of Avalon Holdings Corp. in Howland, acknowledged the service would be advantageous to his company.

“It’s major. We travel a lot. We visit our customers. Having to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh every time we do that adds another half-day to each end of the trip,” he remarked. Being able to drive “a couple short miles to the recently renovated airport will be “a major benefit” to the company. “I’m sure the same thing is true for any other business in the community,” he noted.

Affirmed Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Co., Youngstown, “We have properties in 11 different states across the country and we deal with businesses in just about every state. So we have a need to bring people into town and also for our people to go out and meet our clients and other businesses,”

The Cafaro Co., though its family foundation, provided $100,000 to support the service, Cafaro said.

The connecting flights to Chicago will be a service the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber can market to companies that are looking to make an investment in the Mahoning Valley, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, Sarah Boyarko, said.

The Regional Chamber has committed to an “unprecedented marketing plan” to promote the service that will include web and newspaper ads as well as ads in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, she said.

The announcement also represents a “first step” for ADI, which to this point has focused on charter flights, Bowman said. “This new service venture is a rebirth for us on the scheduled commercial side of the house. It’s something we’ve aspired to for some time,” he remarked.

The goal is to add additional flights and potentially an additional destination depending on the success of the Chicago service, said Richardson, the CEO. To begin to grow the service, he anticipates needing to reach 80% load factors on the flights. “We’ll get there after four or five months. We intend to be there,” he remarked.

Bowman was more cautious about the timetable for adding flights. The challenge is breaking travelers’ habits, formed over years, to drive to Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Canton-Akron for flights.

“Honestly, I think it’ll take us a year to get there. I think that’s realistic,” he said. “I would love to tell you it’s going to be three months. It’s not. … We’re going to work hard in order to get people back. S o I think within a year we’ll have a good notion of whether this is going to make it or not.”

Pictured: ADI plane lands bringing company executives to the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport for Tuesday’s press event.

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