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Published: Saturday, 12/14/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Toledo Express on path to see more passengers

$675,000 deficit erased, port board learns

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Updated on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at 9:10 to reflect the following correction: American Airlines and US Airways are the two aviation companies that have merged.

Buffeted by accusations from a rival group that its stewardship of Toledo Express Airport has been lackluster, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority reported Friday it is on track to show an increase in passenger service for the first time since 2004 and it had eradicated a budget deficit of $675,000 for the current year.

The information was included in a presentation by Paul Toth, the port authority’s president and chief executive officer, to the port board’s airport committee.

The Treece family of Sylvania Township, owners of a financial advising business, is mounting an effort to take over the airport lease from the port authority, which has operated the city of Toledo-owned commercial airport in Swanton Township since 1973, along with the smaller Toledo Executive Airport in Wood County.

Port officials said passenger traffic for the first 11 months of the year totaled 142,765, an 8 percent increase over the 132,100 figure for passenger traffic in the first 11 months of 2012. The 13,512 passengers who used Toledo Express in November marked a 34 percent increase over the same month in 2012.

Officials attributed the increase largely to a year-long marketing effort that included Internet ads, coupons for free parking, tickets raffled off at Bowling Green State University and University of Toledo football games, and Facebook ticket lotteries.

“Last year, we made a commitment to increase our activity to retain and create passenger traffic,” Mr. Toth said. “It’s important for this board to understand we’re not just sitting on our hands waiting for things to happen.”

Much of the increase in passenger traffic was with Allegiant, which carried 6,935 total passengers to three Florida destinations in November, an 81 percent increase over the same month in 2012, and American Airlines, which carried 6,399 passengers from Toledo to Chicago, an increase of 5 percent in November.

At the current pace, Toledo Express will finish 2013 with the first increase over a previous year since 2004.

Mr. Toth described meetings with potential airline carriers and expressed hope the merger of American Airlines and US Airways would open up more East Coast hubs to American Airlines passengers out of Toledo.

Mr. Toth said 3,241 people in the Toledo metropolitan four-county area get on an airplane every day, but most go to Detroit, driving right past Toledo because of Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s low fares and large number of daily flights.

Some 259 people a day fly to Orlando, but only 36 fly out of Toledo.

Of 175 who fly to Chicago, 27 choose Toledo. Mr. Toth said it’s tough to compete with Delta’s loyalty programs and its 31 daily flights to Chicago.

Some port authority board members questioned claims by the Treeces about the port authority’s expertise in running airports, the possibility of the Ohio Air National Guard base closing, and the advisability of consolidating fuel sales at the airport.

Mr. Toth said there is no plan for a new base-closing commission, and he said the 180th Fighter Wing has survived previous Pentagon cutbacks because the unit is “the best in the United States.”

Jim Renda, business development manager for fixed-base operator Grand Aire Inc., which fuels airplanes and handled 400 tons of cargo in the last two months, endorsed the port authority’s management of the airport.

“No, I don’t think that they could do as good a job,” Mr. Renda said of the Treeces, in response to a question from airport committee Chairman Jerry Chabler. “I read that market study. Some of the information we deal with is not correct.”

Private financial adviser Dock Treece and his two sons and business partners, Dock David Treece, 26, and Benjamin Treece, 25, have posted an 86-page marketability study on their Web site, but they don’t plan to update the Web site with a detailed business plan until after the holidays, according to Dock David Treece.

“We will wait until the discussion about the marketability study is complete and then come out with the business plan and hope to have a hearing or some discussion about our proposal,” Mr. Treece said. “It sounds as if the port authority read our marketability study fairly thoroughly.”

Mr. Treece said it “is good to see the port authority having positive relations with one of their tenants to make up for terrible relations with others. Even so, we think we can be a far better partner with Grand Aire going forward.”

The Treeces would have to get Toledo City Council and the mayor to authorize a lease-purchase agreement with them. No legislation has been introduced.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.



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