Allegiant Airlines overtook American Eagle Airlines as Toledo Express Airport’s busiest carrier last year, leading to an 11 percent increase of passenger volume at the airport.
Passenger traffic at Toledo Express Airport increased by 11 percent last year, the first such growth after 10 years during which time the facility was battered by airline service cuts and shutdowns.
The 159,295 travelers who got on or off planes at Toledo Express during 2013 was up from 143,514 in 2012, and higher also than 2011’s count of 145,050 passengers.
Allegiant Airlines, which in mid-February added a southwest Florida route to its Toledo operations, overtook American Eagle Airlines as the airport’s busiest carrier, with its 80,947 passengers accounting for just over half of all traffic.
American Eagle, the airport’s sole remaining network airline with four round trips most days to Chicago, accounted for all other passengers, with the exception of 2,258 passengers who flew charters.
American Eagle’s yearlong traffic was down 4.47 percent, but in December its business was up 27.14 percent compared with the same month in 2012.
“Hopefully, it’s a nice momentum we can build on into 2014, although January’s weather hasn’t been too cooperative for us,” said Paul Toth, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s president and chief executive. Mr. Toth delivered the figures to the agency’s board of directors Thursday morning.
American Eagle has had numerous flight cancellations this month, although Mr. Toth said that has been strictly because of weather-related problems at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
“We have not shut that airport [Toledo Express] down for one minute. We have had no delays or cancellations” because of local weather despite Toledo’s record-breaking snowfall this month, Mr. Toth reported.
Board member Opie Rollison suggested the port authority consider designating a space at the airport’s executive parking area for Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, who last week declared that all city employees’ business flights will be booked through Toledo Express.
Such a designation may not be legal, Mr. Rollison admitted. But providing Mr. Collins with a parking spot would be “a pretty minor token” in recognition of his pledge to use the airport, especially because tax dollars would pay the mayor’s parking fees if he parks in one of the general lots while traveling on public business.
Jerry Chabler, chairman of the airport committee, said he hoped Mr. Collins’ announcement “will flow through other institutions” in the Toledo area, like the University of Toledo, for their travel policies and “set an example for the corporate community in the city of Toledo and the surrounding area.”
Although Mayor Collins indicated his airport policy for official city travel did not allow for exceptions, Toledo Chief of Staff Robert Reinbolt said later that price and timing could be considered.
“It’s not an absolute,” Mr. Reinbolt said.
Port authority officials have lamented the degree to which Toledo business travelers book flights from Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, about an hour north of Toledo. Detroit offers a wider range of nonstop destinations and schedule choices.
Even before airline pullouts and service cuts began in 2004 — blamed on airline mergers and rising fuel costs that particularly hurt smaller jets that primarily served airports like Toledo’s — port authority marketing surveys showed more than half of local air travelers used Detroit or other nearby airports.
Toledo has lost flights to hub cities including Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit, with its daily departures on network airlines plunging from more than three dozen to as few as three daily flights on American Eagle’s Chicago route. That route now has four round trips on most days.
From a 2004 peak of 600,439 passengers, air travel through Toledo by 2010 had fallen below the 182,898 travelers who used Express in 1955, the year it opened.
Allegiant offers flights two to three days a week to Sanford, Clearwater, and Punta Gorda, Fla., geared primarily to vacationers.
Port officials say they continue to lobby airlines to expand air service, but emphasize that local travelers need to use the flights Toledo already has to make the airport attractive as a growth candidate.
Later during its meeting, the board approved a 20-year lease extension, with four five-year options, for National Flight Services, a long-time aviation-services provider at Toledo Express.
The tentative agreement includes a port authority commitment of up to $130,000 in improvements for National’s leased facilities and authorizes spending $150,000 to buy from National a hangar that has been a subject of litigation between the company and the port authority.
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