By Brenda J Linert
VIENNA – The emerging natural gas and oil industry might not make it easy to develop the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, but it might make it easier, according to planners who have already been through the same situation.
”We went through all this. We did the community meeting,” said Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport / Lycoming Chamber of Commerce in eastern Pennsylvania, where the natural gas industry has made a big economic impact in the past few years.
Fink came to the Youngs-town-Warren Regional Airport Wednesday to address a crowd of about a hundred business people and political leaders who wanted to hear about ways to grow the local airport and attract new daily commercial flights. It’s an effort that has been ongoing since 2003, the last time daily commercial flights flew out of the Vienna airport.
But according to Fink, it’s the business traveler, particularly ones traveling back and forth to the home of big oil companies in areas like Dallas and Houston, who could be the key to luring commercial flights back here.
”The business traveler, that’s who makes the payments for those tickets,” Fink said. ”Everybody else will benefit from that.”
With that potential also comes the challenge of attracting flights in a very competitive air travel industry. It’s no secret that fewer connector flights, fewer airplanes and fewer airlines are making it more difficult to attract daily service to smaller airports like Youngstown-Warren.
With the help of the Marcellus Shale in eastern Pennsylvania, the Williamsport Regional Airport has experienced so much growth, it is in the process of building a new $13 million passenger terminal to handle the increase in traffic.
Fink stressed the importance of the business community joining the effort to promote the airport.
Officials at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport already are pushing, and local business travelers seem to be getting the message.
More than $1.4 million worth of travel business has been pledged to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in the past month by people who say they would use the airport if there were daily flights.
The pledges to a “travel bank” are non-binding, but still a good indication of how much potential business is out there, said Dan Dickten, Director of Aviation here. Dickten described the effort as a proven tool in attracting airline commitments to airports.
The commitments were generated in less than a month. The goal is $5 million in pledges.
Dickten has said the airport primarily is seeking to attract airlines that could provide daily service to Washington, Chicago or Detroit.
Connections from Youngstown to those cities would likely mean service with United, Delta or USAirways.
Trumbull County Commissioners Dan Polivka and Frank Fuda attended Wednesday’s open house at the airport, and both said they saw lots of potential.
”There’s a lot of positive things that are going on out there,” Polivka said. ”We still have a long row to hoe, but we are steadily climbing that hill.”
“We have definitely seen the growth in this industry in our community. It’s further enhanced us. It’s made us a little bit more diverse market,” Fink said. ”Hopefully that is what this industry should bring to you.”