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REGIONAL AIRPORT Board OKs deal to restore flights

By John Goodall

Saturday, January 24, 2004

County support is more than twice as much as had been previously discussed.
VIENNA -- Mahoning and Trumbull county commissioners have agreed to pay a combined $300,000 to help an Atlanta-based company begin regular flights from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
Western Reserve Port Authority Board, which runs the airport, approved a deal today with Flightserv Inc. to begin regular air service to airports near Orlando, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., on April 1.
The contract has not yet been approved by the company, which will offer the nonstop flights through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Vacation Express.
A press conference with both port authority and company officials is planned for noon Friday after the contract is approved.
Initial plans call for flights on Wednesday and Saturday to Myrtle Beach, and on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday to Sanford, Fla., outside Orlando.
Jets will arrive at the Vienna airport at about 1:45 p.m. and depart at about 2:30 p.m., said airport director Steve Bowser. Introductory fares will be less than $80 one-way, he said.
"We eventually want to expand the number of flights and the number of destinations," he said. "[The airline] is looking to expand the service into the Caribbean someday."
Bowser said the flights will attract more than 10,000 passengers a year, the threshold necessary to maintain the airport's $1 million annual Federal Aviation Administration grant.
The last commercial carrier pulled out of the airport in October 2002. Bowser emphasized that, with nonstop jet service to vacation destinations, Flightserv will offer a different service than the airlines that failed here in the past.
Financial deal
To lure Flightserv, Trumbull and Mahoning counties will each put $150,000 in a fund to defray the company's initial expenses, Bowser said. The figure is much more than the $125,000 the port authority said it would offer when negotiations with Flightserv were announced last month.
As well, the port authority has agreed to waive all fees the airline would normally pay, including terminal rental, for at least the first six months. The port authority will re-instate the fees, and even try to pay the counties back for the initial investment, if Flightserv starts making money off local service, Bowser said.
To break even, the carrier will have to fill about 75 percent of the 122 seats on the jets they plan to use, Bowser said. Tickets will be available through the airline and, eventually, local travel agents.
Luring passengers
The port authority intends to participate in an advertising campaign to market the flights to local customers, Bowser added.
A recent port authority study found that 600,000 to 800,000 tickets a year were purchased by people in the area to fly from other airports, and that Orlando was their top destination, Bowser said.
"We are hoping that some of the people can come to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and support the Valley," he said.
For the last several years, the airport has relied on subsidies of about $300,000 a year each from Trumbull and Mahoning counties to remain in business.