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Published: Monday, 1/28/2013

Passenger traffic at Toledo Express Airport hits historic low

9th-straight yearly drop falls only slightly from ’12

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Express Airport’s passenger traffic reached another historic low in 2012, declining slightly from 2011.

And while Paul Toth, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, expects Allegiant Air’s startup next month of flights to southwest Florida to stem the local airport’s nine-year decline, he conceded that airport officials no longer harbor hope about a new Denver route for which they obtained a federal grant 16 months ago.

According to year-end statistics from the port authority, which operates Toledo Express on a lease from the city, 143,514 travelers got on or off planes at the airport in 2012, down 1.05 percent from the 145,050 who flew there the year before. It was the fourth straight year that passenger business was lower than the 182,898 travelers who used Express in 1955, its opening year.

At least part of the 2012 decline was attributed to the early-March shutdown of DirectAir, a scheduled-charter carrier that flew 12,506 passengers in 2011 on its route between Toledo and Punta Gorda, Fla. It flew to Toledo only seasonally, generally between mid-November and late April.

Allegiant Air, which already flew two to three times per week between Toledo and both Sanford, Fla. — near Orlando — and Clearwater-St. Petersburg, Fla., late last year announced plans for twice-weekly service to Punta Gorda, near Fort Myers starting Feb. 16.

“That’s obviously a big win for us at the beginning of February. We expect that to run all the way through at least June,” Mr. Toth said, noting that Allegiant also tends to suspend northern service during the autumnal slow season for Florida travel.

Also influencing the year-long results was the early-2011 pullout of the last Delta Connection service to Toledo. Delta’s commuter carrier flew 1,662 passengers between Toledo and Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2011 before yanking its last flight 20 months ago.

On the ledger’s plus side were the 2,616 passengers aboard Vision Airlines flights between Toledo and Myrtle Beach, S.C., after that carrier’s June 1 startup, but Toledo Express’ victory was fleeting: Vision ended the service June 29, and soon thereafter dropped the rest of its fledgling, eight-city Myrtle Beach-based network.

American Eagle Airlines operates the only daily service to Toledo Express, flying three to four roundtrips from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

In September, 2011, the port authority obtained a $750,000 federal Small Community Air Service grant to promote new service at the Express, based partly on a letter from Denver-based Frontier Airlines stating it would consider flying to Toledo if such a grant were available.

But port officials’ original goal of a May, 2012, startup went unfulfilled, and a visibly frustrated Mr. Toth said Thursday he no longer considered Frontier a prospect.

“At this time we have no plans to provide service from Toledo Airport,” Kate O'Malley, a Frontier spokesman, confirmed Friday.

Mr. Toth said the port authority is pursuing alternative candidates to which it might apply the grant. The grant application listed several cities as alternative destinations if the Denver proposal fell through, so the port authority would not have to obtain approval to change it.

The federal grant, if the port authority can find a taker, is to be matched by $250,000 from the Northwest Ohio Development Fund, to create a $1 million revenue guarantee for the first two years of a new route’s operation. The port authority pledged $250,000 for marketing support, “in-kind” contributions from the airport valued at $642,025, and $235,000 in advertising subsidies from media partners, including The Blade.

In 2006, the port authority obtained a $400,000 grant from the same federal program, but it returned the money four years later after failing to attract service.

On the cargo side, meanwhile, the port authority’s year-end numbers showed the full impact of BAX Global Inc.’s Sept. 1 shutdown of its air cargo operations in Toledo. Just 24,195,451 pounds of freight flew in or out of Toledo Express last year, down from 361,402,602 pounds in 2011 and 561,839,209 pounds in 2010, the last full year of BAX operations.

While BX Solutions Inc., a startup organized by former BAX executives, moved into the former BAX hub later in 2011 and now employs about 250 full-time workers sorting freight there, it so far has used the facility only for trucking.

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



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