VIENNA, Ohio (WYTV) –
Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten said daily flights to Chicago are in the process of being discontinued.
In a press conference Wednesday, Dickten said they have burned through about 30 percent of $1.2 million in federal grants. In addition, he said Aerodynamics, Inc. (ADI) failed to have agreements in place with other airlines.
The decision came Wednesday after the Western Reserve Port Authority board voted unanimously to suspend financial support for daily flight services via Great Lakes JetExpress, operated by ADI.
The board said people liked the service but it was too inconvenient. While customers could get on flights to other locations, they would have to go through security screenings each time rather than connecting straight through.
Board members determined the flights would not be successful as operated by Great Lakes JetExpress/ADI after losing one of the two connecting flight agreements that were established prior to launch, despite being assured otherwise.
There weren’t too many people taking the flights to Chicago, but the lack of agreement between Great Lakes JetExpress and United Airlines for connecting flights out of the city was the main problem.
“That has cut our connecting service back to a number under 20 percent. We needed somewhere in the 50 to 60 percent range to sustain this thing,” Dickten said.
Just before the first flight on July 1, airport officials found out there was no deal with United. They were hoping a deal would come later, but learned this week that there wouldn’t be a deal anytime soon, so the Port Authority decided to stop funding the flights.
“Once we saw where it was going after the conversations with the airline itself, we realized it’s best to shut it off as early as we can,” said the Port Authority’s executive director, John Moliterno. “There’s no question we’re disappointed. We wanted this to work.”
The board cited confusion with online booking as another reason, as some customers had difficulty completing reservations with third-party booking websites.
Now, it will be up to ADI to continue the flights unsubsidized or to discontinue them.
“Because the flights are subsidized with a public grant, we have an obligation to our community to minimize losses moving forward,” Moliterno said. “Our mission is to advance aviation and we won’t stop doing that. We owe it to the people of the Mahoning Valley to continue trying to bring additional service from YNG.”
Attorneys are working out the details on how to get out of the contract and have asked ADI to terminate service as soon as possible, hopefully by August 31. Customers will be refunded for canceled flights.
Passengers landing in Youngstown from Chicago Wednesday night were disappointed to hear the news.
“You’re kidding! This is my first one. That’s awful,” Bert Vanekeren said.
Karen Nelson said she was looking forward to being able to fly directly to Youngstown instead of having to go through Pittsburgh or Cleveland.
The flights were anticipated to be an economic boon for the region, but the first day of travel had the most flights, according to Dickten. Flights were at 39 percent capacity in July and 23 percent in August.
The Port Authority said it still believes there is a strong market to support daily service.
“Passenger reviews of the flights and the service have been very good thus far,” Dickten said. “Both public passengers and local businesses have been very supportive of this local travel option.”
ADI was not available for comment Wednesday, despite several attempts to contact them. It is ultimately ADI’s decision whether or not to cancel flights. The two flights for Thursday are still scheduled.
The board recommends those who have booked flights with the service to contact other carriers immediately to avoid any interruptions in their travel plans. This does not affect any Allegiant flights booked out of YNG.
Passengers who booked flights with Great Lakes JetExpress are entitled to a full refund from the carrier. Great Lakes Airlines will contact customers to discuss refund information. Customers can also get information by calling Great Lakes Airlines at (307) 432-7265, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.