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Published: Friday, 7/25/2008

Return of service at Toledo Express doubtful, port board is told

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Developer Brian McMahon, with microphone, asks a question during a forum on Toledo Express Airport's future. At front left is Jerry Chabler, Ohio state racing commissioner and former port board member; on the other side of Mr. McMahon are Toledo City Council President Mark Sobczak and G. Opie Rollinson, vice chairman of the port board.
Developer Brian McMahon, with microphone, asks a question during a forum on Toledo Express Airport's future. At front left is Jerry Chabler, Ohio state racing commissioner and former port board member; on the other side of Mr. McMahon are Toledo City Council President Mark Sobczak and G. Opie Rollinson, vice chairman of the port board.
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Toledo Express Airport's airline hemorrhage finally may be over, but an aviation industry expert cautioned local officials and businessmen yesterday that prospects for restoring lost services are dim for the immediate future.

"You're going to have two airline systems out of here for the near term," Michael Boyd, owner of the Boyd Group/ASRC in Evergreen, Colo., told a forum sponsored yesterday by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority in National City Bank's downtown Toledo auditorium.

But he agreed with port authority officials that shutting down all passenger operations at the local airport would be a bad idea, even if service now is a shadow of what it was four years ago.

"If you lose all service, you will be a second-rate city," Mr. Boyd said.

Retaining the eight daily flights American Eagle and Northwest Airlink fly from Toledo, plus less-than-daily Florida service on Allegiant Air, keeps Toledo on the aviation map, he said.

Eric Frankl, the port authority's director of airports, said Toledo Express generates $640 million in regional economic activity, and 95 percent of that is related to the cargo, military, and general aviation flight activity at the airport.

With DHL planning to shut down its aviation operations in Wilmington, Ohio, the BAX Global hub at Toledo Express will be left as one of just three domestic air-cargo hubs in the United States, he said.

Toledo's status as an airline-served airport makes it eligible for federal grants it could not receive otherwise, the airport director said.

But federal grant eligibility also depends on the airport having a 20-year secure future, Mr. Frankl said, and in about seven months that future will become clouded by the February, 2029, expiration date for the port authority's lease of Toledo Express and Metcalf Field from the city of Toledo.

Mr. Frankl said port authority and city officials are discussing:

•Whether the port authority should continue to lease Express from the city, as it has done since 1973.

•Whether the port authority should take over the airport altogether.

•Allowing the airport to revert to city operation.

•Arranging for creation of an entirely separate airport authority to own and manage it.

The port authority's situation as a lessor and operator is less than ideal for the agency, he said, because while the port incurs the loss when the airport budget goes in the red, it can't benefit in the years when Toledo Express turns a profit. "The port authority doesn't accept any revenue from the airport. It has to go back into the airport operations," Mr. Frankl said.

While cautioning that fares from Toledo are likely to go higher, Mr. Boyd urged business travelers in particular to use the airport whenever they can to maintain Toledo's access to airline service. "If you have a family of four with screaming kids and diaper bag, then take that nonstop from Detroit," the analyst said. But for business trips, he said, view Toledo Express as "curbside check-in" for Detroit or Chicago and use the connecting flights that are no less convenient than driving and parking at the big-city airports.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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