CONTINENTAL Airlines' decision to cancel feeder service between Toledo Express Airport and Cleveland was unfortunate but hardly surprising in light of fuel prices that have taken off in recent months. The larger question is what the future will hold.
Unfortunately, absent some unforeseen technological breakthrough, the age of relatively cheap jet fuel - or gasoline, for that matter - likely has gone the way of the $5 movie ticket. Astronomical fuel costs have the airline industry hurting, and carriers large and small are desperately searching for ways to offset rising costs and improve their bottom line. In recent months, these measures have ranged from the predictable fare hikes, grounding of less fuel-efficient airplanes, reductions in the number of flights, and layoffs of workers to more creative ideas such as charging for services (checked baggage, nonalcoholic beverages) that had been free.
If Express were the only facility in the area, airlines might try harder to keep it connected to major cities, but it's not. It's fate was sealed decades ago when Detroit Metro Airport was built southwest of the city instead of north, and nails were driven into that coffin in 2002 when Metro opened a new Northwest terminal and a southern entrance to the airport off I-275, making Metro a closer and more convenient option for travelers from the Toledo area. As a result, Express has seen a steady decline in passenger service - from 37 daily departures in 2004 to 21 in 2006 to 12 after Continental's changes go into effect Sept. 3, provided there are no other changes before then.
Certainly, an economic rebound in northwest Ohio would have a positive effect on Toledo's airport as well. It's even possible that in a revitalized regional economy Express could become the airport of choice for residents of the region. That's one reason recent discussions about the potential of the area as what Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority President James Hartung called "an international transportation, logistics, and distribution center" - what's known as an intermodal hub - are so important.
The future of Toledo Express is tied to that of the city for which it was named and the region it hopes to serve. If the City of Toledo, Lucas County, and northwest Ohio in general are successful in identifying and embracing economic opportunities, the airport can thrive.
Until that time, it will limp along on a wing and a prayer, doing the best it can to avoid being grounded forever.