Southern Airways Wants to Gauge Interest in Service

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority is planning a meeting between business and community leaders and a carrier that could provide service to and from Detroit and Baltimore at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, port authority officials said Wednesday.

Scheduled charter service via Southern Airways Express, headquartered in Hernando, Miss., a Memphis suburb, is among a handful of prospects officials are pursuing following the Volaire Aviation Forum in Pasco, Wash., last week. John Moliterno, the port authority’s executive director, and Dan Dickten, aviation director of the airport, attended the conference.

At the port authority’s monthly meeting Wednesday, both said they are encouraged by their discussions at the conference. The port authority is actively seeking new service in the wake of Allegiant Air’s announcement this summer that it would discontinue flights at the regional airport.

“I thought the meetings were very meaningful,” Dickten said.

The forum with Southern Airways Express’ vice president, Mark Cestari, is intended to gauge interest and participation by the business community, he said. “They’re very much targeting the business community more so than anything,” he remarked. “Not that the leisure and regular travelers don’t mean anything, but they like those corporate blocks of tickets that they can get.” Planning for the forum is underway, he said.

The Southern Airways flights would use nine-seat turboprop aircraft, Dickten said.

Southern Airways also has discussed the prospect of basing three of its aircraft here, Moliterno added.

SkyWest Airlines, which the regional airport has been courting for more than three years, is another possibility, Dickten reported. SkyWest has code-share agreements with all three network carriers, he said.

“In our case, it’s the United Express connection service we’re after,” he remarked. Destinations could include Chicago, New York and Washington.

An additional prospect, Sun Country Airlines, which would provide service to leisure destinations, is eyed as a potential replacement for Allegiant. The carrier is looking to move into the ultra-low-cost carrier market and wants to move into northeastern Ohio when that market stabilizes, Dickten said.

Of the potential startups, Southern Airways is likeliest to begin first, Dickten predicted. “I would hope that Sun Country would make some kind of a decision soon,” with service potentially beginning before summer 2018, he remarked.

“This is certainly the best I have felt leaving a conference of any of the ones that we have attended,” Moliterno said.

“We felt very good about the fact that they are now very seriously looking at our community,” he added. “They understand what we have here. They understand the population that we serve.”

Anthony Trevena, who leads the port authority’s Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority, reported that he is in discussions with two or three entities that are interested in submitting applications to the Power of 32 Site Development, which provides financing for projects in a four-state region, including five Ohio counties. The fund held an informational forum Oct. 12 in collaboration with NEODFA and The Business Journal.

He also provided an update on the port authority’s planned purchase of the Harshman Building in downtown Youngstown from NYO Property Group. He has to sign the purchase agreement following the most changes to the deal.

The purchase price for the building is $350,000, he reported. The port authority has authorized issuing up to $675,000 in bonds to pay for the purchase and renovation of the building, where the port authority might move its Youngstown office from Penguin Place.

Negotiations also are under way with Eastern Gateway Community College to lease space for classrooms, offices and a training center in the lower level for athletes, he reported.

The port authority may also seek water and wastewater grants and a float loan from the city.

“The building has been sitting dormant for quite a while,” Trevena said.

Also during the board meeting, Vito Abruzzino, executive director of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission, discussed the prospect of a Base Realignment and Closure – or BRAC – program. Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote a letter to Congress requesting one by 2021, Abruzzino said.

Based on a 2012 review of troop levels, Abruzzino reported, the Air Force is at 19% excess capacity, and the Army’s excess capacity is “pretty substantial” as well.

The Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which shares runways with the regional airport, survived the last BRAC process, which concluded in 2005. The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and the Mahoning Valley’s then-new congressman, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, mounted a local support campaign known as Operation: SOAR, or Save Our Airbase Reservists.

One project that could improve the airbase’s prospects for surviving another BRAC is lengthening the main runway to accommodate C-17s and other large aircraft, Abruzzino said.

“The C-17 needs an additional 1,000 feet if fully loaded,” he said. “That’s the future of aerial lift,” and if YARS is going to remain dedicated to aerial lift it needs to be able to accommodate those aircraft, he said.

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