WRPA Expects Airline Deal by Year’s End

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – John Moliterno is confident about prospects for securing a deal to provide scheduled daily flights for business travelers through the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in 2019.

That projection by the Western Reserve Port Authority’s executive director came after “a very honest, straightforward assessment of where we’re at and where we want to be” Wednesday morning by aviation consultant Michael Mooney.

Mooney, a partner in Volaire Aviation, spoke in open session and during an executive session at WRPA’s monthly board meeting, which was held at the YSU Enclave.

The Vienna Township airport has been without scheduled regular service since longtime carrier Allegiant Air, which served the vacation market, left Jan. 4.

“Right now, the best opportunity appears to be the regional business route, Monday through Friday, to a major metropolitan area,” Mooney said. “That appears to be the best opportunity right now, but the airline industry is fluid. Things change.”

Currently, the airline industry is consolidating, which isn’t a bad thing for the economy, but it means that fewer carriers are talking to smaller communities, he acknowledged. Challenges in the regional airline industry include what Mooney characterized as a “major” pilot shortage and declining economics for service to smaller communities, but the port authority board is “very focused on the recruiting effort,” he said.

The airline consultant also pointed to shifts that could potentially benefit the search for a local carrier. Spirit is looking at a smaller gauge aircraft that potentially could serve markets like Youngstown and Warren, he said.

Also, many of the individuals who drove the strategy shift at Allegiant – which left Youngstown-Warren to defend its market in response to Spirit and Frontier setting up at Cleveland and Pittsburgh airports – are no longer with the carrier, which is now rethinking smaller communities. “That doesn’t mean anything is happening here but it is a very important shift,” he said.

Like Mooney, Moliterno said the opportunity was for a carrier targeting the regional business travel rather than the leisure market. The port authority is “looking to take some actions on some airlines and have some conversations … pretty shortly,” he said.

“Part of it is we have to put the numbers together. It’s about destinations and it’s about the cost to get there,” he continued. The port authority “could land an airline tomorrow,” but if it’s going to be cost prohibitive it won’t succeed.

“Ideally, what we would like to have is an agreement yet this year,” with service likely launching in 2019, a goal Moliterno said was “doable.” The port authority has “multiple options” it is discussing and is talking to several carriers, mostly smaller ones.

“It’s an uphill effort. I’d like to see something happen in 2019 but I cannot guarantee that,” Mooney said.

The port authority also has discussions with larger airlines, but that was a “longer-term conversation,” Moliterno acknowledged.

Wednesday’s meeting was held at the YSU Enclave, the newest student-housing complex constructed to serve students at Youngstown State University. The port authority assisted with putting together financing for the 65-unit, 194-bed complex, which opened to students this semester.

LRC Realty of Akron, which developed the complex, has a letter of intent with Mercy Health for 5,000 square feet of the 11,000 square feet of commercial space, reported Kevin Fallon, senior vice president of LRC. Discussions are underway with a national retailer for the remaining space, he said.

Students in one of the Enclave’s four-bedroom units each pay $675 monthly, its property manager, Tim May, reported during a tour. The units are fully furnished with appliances and rent includes internet and cable television, though residents have to supply their own TVs.

The complex features a fitness area with Nautilus equipment and a space where residents can watch and follow fitness classes on a wall-mounted iPad. “This is probably the nicest equipment you would see in a facility like this,” May said. Additionally, the Enclave offers a computer center and an outdoor courtyard with a propane gas grill.

The complex is at full occupancy with a 30-person waiting list for the 2019-2020 academic year, May said. The goal is to have the property 50% leased for the next academic year by Dec. 15, he said.

During the meeting, the port authority also approved a two-year contract for Anthony Trevena, economic development director, who heads its Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority.

Under terms of the new agreement, Trevena, who was hired at $90,000 annually under a three-year contract in 2015, will not receive a pay increase but the port authority will pick up 7% of his contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System.

The board also voted to accept $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to train entrepreneurs who will be locating in the building formerly owned by the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley on Glenwood Avenue, which Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. is developing for use by microenterprises.

The port authority will contract with the Economic Action Group to provide that assistance, Trevena said.

In addition, the board voted to enter into a development agreement with the city of Youngstown for a water grant of up to $32,000 to support the renovation of the former Harshman Building. The port authority recently closed on the 14,000-square-foot building that is being renovated primarily for Eastern Gateway Community College, which has leased about two-thirds of its space, Trevena said.

Pictured: Michael Mooney, aviation consultant and partner with Volaire Aviation, speaks with members of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.