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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

October travel down 36.4% at Toledo Express

The first month after the TransMeridian Airlines shutdown was a bleak one for Toledo Express Airport.

Passenger volume plunged by 36.4 percent in October compared with the same month in 2004, from 48,844 to 31,071.

The biggest hits came from the loss of the discount carrier, which abruptly ceased operations in September, and the year-long absence of ATA Connection service to Chicago.

But traffic also declined on Northwest Airlink, Continental Connection, and Delta Connection flights to and from Toledo, leaving American Eagle as the only growth airline at the airport last month.

Paul Toth, airport director for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Toledo Express' struggles are being shared by similar airports across the country as the airline industry retrenches and weaker carriers shut down.

"It's nothing specific to the Toledo market," he said following a port authority board meeting yesterday. "It's happening across the board."

A staff report Mr. Toth submitted to the port directors said things could get worse before they improve.

With Delta and Northwest operating under bankruptcy protection after posting huge losses, "a long-term reduction in service to markets the size of Toledo is highly probable in 2006," he wrote.

Delta Connection flights between Toledo and Cincinnati have been cut from as many as nine a day earlier this year to six now, Mr. Toth said, as Delta eliminates entire banks of flights from its hub at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

ATA Connection's pullout in January followed the bankruptcy of its main-line parent, American Trans Air, and last year US Airways Express dropped Toledo service after its bankrupt parent drastically cut operations at its Pittsburgh hub.

For the first 10 months of the year, passenger volume at Toledo Express is down 21.8 percent, from 508,052 last year to 397,249 in 2005. "We're going to have to ride out this historically difficult time for the airline industry, and hopefully start building from there," Mr. Toth said.

Toledo Express' "best opportunity," the airport director said, is specialty airlines such as Allegiant Air, which on Dec. 15 will launch four weekly flights on two Toledo routes, to Las Vegas and Sanford, Fla., near Orlando.

Both are routes TransMeridian formerly flew from Toledo, though the Las Vegas route was dropped early this year.

Allegiant should restore about 3,000 to 4,000 enplanements - outbound passengers - a month to Toledo Express, Mr. Toth said.

Gina Garwood, president of Atlas Tours and Travel in Sylvania Township, said Allegiant's pending arrival has generated "lots of positive feedback" in the Toledo travel market.

"Everybody's excited there's going to be a Vegas carrier back in Toledo," she said.

But Ms. Garwood conceded that Toledo Express will continue to struggle to capture much of the local business travel market, which carriers at Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport dominate.

"Corporate will tend to always do the nonstops, and that feeds Detroit," she said. Even when connecting flights are involved, she said, Detroit has the advantage of more frequent service, so travelers are less likely to get stranded if there's a problem.



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