The dream of getting direct air service between Toledo Express Airport and New York is dead, at least for the foreseeable future.
A $400,000 federal grant the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority secured four years ago to promote such flights reached another expiration date Tuesday. This time, port authority officials decided not to renew it.
"We just simply have nobody interested in flying that route in these economic times," port President Paul Toth told the agency's board of directors last week.
Instead, he said, the port authority has applied for a new Small Cities Air Service grant, for up to $200,000, to provide marketing assistance to Delta Air Lines for the Minneapolis-St. Paul flights it will introduce twice daily on Nov. 1.
"We should know our success in the next 60 days on that," Mr. Toth said.
The port authority also is dropping its air-service development contract with Sixel Consulting, a firm it had retained to help seek out potential air carriers for Toledo Express.
"We're still evaluating" how to handle airport marketing, Mr. Toth had said when reporting that decision to the port board's airport committee earlier last month.
Delta had been the port authority's lead prospect for Toledo-New York service when it secured the $400,000 grant in 2006. Port officials believed the federal funds could make the difference in landing new flights to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
But the Delta proposal fizzled, and the port authority's second candidate for the route - start-up carrier JetAmerica - ended up costing the agency nearly $120,000 in marketing expenses for flights to Newark that never began.
JetAmerica in May, 2009, announced daily service on several routes, including Toledo-Newark, with discount fares as low as $9, but its plan unraveled two months later when its management conceded that it would be unable to obtain takeoff and landing "slots" at Newark.
The Federal Aviation Administration restricts the number of takeoffs and landings at the three major New York-area airports as well as at Reagan National in Washington and O'Hare International in Chicago.
Mr. Toth said the slots issue was the underlying reason all along that Toledo officials' efforts to get New York service failed.
The success of the new Twin Cities route, Mr. Toth said, is vital to any recovery of passenger service at Toledo Express.
Airlines have slashed service over the past six years. Passenger volume plunged to 182,287 at the airport last year - 71 fewer than used it in 1955, the year it opened - and has continued to fall this year.
Through July, 111,007 travelers had used the local airport in 2010, down 6.5 percent from the 118,713 who flew to or from Express during the first seven months of 2009.
Whether the Minneapolis-St. Paul Service will help those numbers remains to be seen, because Delta is introducing that service at the same time that it pulls the plug on its short-hop flights between Toledo and Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport.
Last month they carried just shy of one third of local air travelers.
"We need Delta to be successful to Minneapolis, and we need American Eagle to grow to Chicago before we can expect anyone else to come into this market," Mr. Toth said.
While promising that the port authority has "a lot of irons in the fire" for air service development, the port president said prospects remain few.
"There's not a lot of movement out there in the industry," he said.
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