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Published: Friday, 6/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Vision Airlines ends Toledo route

Poor ticket sales cited as cause; service to S.C. lasted less than month

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The first Vision Airlines flight from South Carolina arrived at Toledo Express Airport on June 1. The airline announced Thursday its last local flight will be June 29. The first Vision Airlines flight from South Carolina arrived at Toledo Express Airport on June 1. The airline announced Thursday its last local flight will be June 29.
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Toledo Express Airport's new service to a South Carolina golfing paradise is rolling to a stop.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority announced Thursday that Vision Airlines will withdraw its Toledo route, which began flying June 1, after the round-trip flight on June 29.

The port authority statement blamed poor ticket sales for the airline's decision to pull out.

"Despite the port authority's efforts to support this service -- through waiving off all airport fees, including landing fees and terminal use fees, and an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign -- the traveling public did not support the route to the level necessary to maintain this air service," the port's statement said.

Port authority spokesman Holly Kemler said she did not have ticket-sale counts or other information about the airline's decision. Vision Airlines has not responded to an interview request.

The port authority said the airline planned to contact ticketed passengers affected by cancellation of flights after June 29, and also provided a Vision telephone number, 877-359-2538, for those wishing to call the airline themselves.

Port officials had hoped Vision's seasonal South Carolina service -- flights were only planned through the end of October -- would be popular enough that the airline would also fly between Toledo and a South Florida city during the wintertime.

In that regard, Vision was touted as a replacement for DirectAir, which for several years had flown popular scheduled charters between Toledo and Punta Gorda, Fla., near Fort Myers. DirectAir shut down all operations in March and declared bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

The port authority spent about $36,000 for broadcast, print, and billboard advertising to promote the new Vision service during May and June, Ms. Kemler said. The agency also waived landing fees and other normal charges at the airport to support the flights, as it has pledged to do for other carriers introducing or expanding Toledo service.

Jerry Chabler, chairman of the port authority board of directors' airport committee, said he was disappointed by Vision's quick trigger to pull out of Toledo.

"This was shocking to us," he said. "It was almost like the movie Runaway Bride -- we've been jilted. I don't think Vision gave it enough time, only a month."

But he also said local residents, both vacationers and business travelers, need "to step up to the plate" and fly from Toledo Express more often.

However, in the past eight years, airlines have reduced flights from Toledo Express and then pulled out of the local market altogether.

Vision's withdrawal from Toledo Express leaves the local airport with four daily round-trip flights between Toledo and Chicago on American Eagle Airlines and several flights per week on Allegiant Airlines to Orlando/Sanford and St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fla.

The port authority last fall received a $750,000 federal Small Community Air Service grant to support the development of new flights in Toledo, with Frontier Airlines flights to Denver listed as the primary candidate for such service.

Even before Vision's announcement, the airport committee had arranged for Sixel Consulting, which has advised port officials on service development, to give a presentation today. That meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the main conference room at Toledo Express.

Vision's action is "discouraging, but we're not going to give up on bringing new passenger service to Toledo," Mr. Chabler said.

But so far, service pursuant to that grant has not been announced, and a previous Small Community Air Service grant awarded to the port authority for New York-area flights in 2006 was released after port officials' efforts came up empty.

In 2009, the agency spent $120,000 to promote a startup carrier called JetAmerica that announced, and sold tickets for, flights between Toledo and Newark, N.J., as well as other routes. JetAmerica fell apart before its first flight after federal officials said the carrier would need to obtain regulated landing and take-off "slots" at the Newark airport, which it had not done.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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