FOR more than three decades, Toledo and other mid-size cities have struggled to maintain airline passenger service in a deregulated atmosphere that made them slaves of big carriers based in far-off cities. When JetAmerica makes its maiden flight from Toledo Express Airport in July, however, it could mark the dawn of a new era in which local travelers will be freed from the tyranny of hub-and-spoke aviation.
The low-cost, start-up airline plans to offer no-frills flights to Newark and Melbourne, Fla., expanding to Minneapolis in August. Seats will start at $9 one way and top out at $199, not including ordering fees, airline fees, and taxes. By comparison, according to cheaptickets.com, someone making the same short-notice trip this week would pay more than $450 and make two stops, arriving in Newark 8 1/2 hours after taking off from Toledo.
Targeted are business travelers and tourists on their way to the Big Apple (downtown Manhattan is just a hop, skip, and jump from Newark's airport), Florida vacationers (Melbourne International is mere blocks from the Florida beaches and a short rental car drive from attractions in Orlando such as Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios), and, when Minneapolis is added, people intent on making a shopping pilgrimage to the Mall of America.
John Weikle, JetAmerica's chief executive, was the man who founded Skybus, the Columbus-based cut-rate airline that folded last year after less than 11 months, in part because of skyrocketing jet fuel prices. That gave us pause but in his defense, Mr. Weikle left Skybus the day after its first flight and he argues that it was not the business model but poor execution of that model that grounded Skybus.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority is helping subsidize the airline's first year of operation on the principle, expressed by port authority President Michael Stolarczyk, that "we can't wait for the economy to turn around to make it work." Because the subsidy will come in the form of marketing, the funds will stay in the local community. In addition, JetAmerica said it will base its leased planes and crews in Toledo, providing an additional boost to the local economy.
According to airline officials, point-to-point flights could be added to several cities such as Boston, Hartford, and Chicago within two years, and those planes and crews would be based in Toledo as well. But every time a new carrier lands here, it unloads high-flying plans to transform the local airline market, so on that score we urge caution.
Despite that reservation, the port authority and JetAmerica are making a bold bid to break the legacy airlines' stranglehold on the industry and make regional airports relevant and profitable once more. For that, they deserve our support, and the support of travelers in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
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