Toledo Express Airport could have new flights to southwest Florida by Christmas if the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority follows through with an air-service contract its board of directors approved Tuesday morning.
The board passed a resolution authorizing agency staff to negotiate with an Atlanta-based air-service broker to set up flights between Toledo and Southwest Florida International Airport, near Fort Myers, for four months during the winter and spring.
The port authority won't buy any planes or hire any crews, but it will be on the hook financially for the service: in exchange for a guarantee planes will fly, the agency will cover the losses if flights lose money.
Exactly how much that might be wasn't discussed after the board of directors met for 25 minutes behind closed doors to discuss the plan, then passed the resolution in public session by a 10-0 vote, with three directors absent.
Port officials said they expect to finalize the contract with Aviation Advantage Inc. within two weeks, after which details of the new service will be announced, including aircraft type and schedule.
The proposed service is expected to start near Dec. 20 and continue through mid-April.
"We would basically guarantee the revenue from the flights," port board President Paul Toth said after the vote, explaining that funds for any needed subsidy would come from the port authority's airports budget.
"This is unlike anything we've ever done before," said Jerry Chabler, chairman of the board's airport committee. "If you buy a ticket, you're going to fly."
That will be a key difference from three recent, and embarrassing, air-service cancellations at Toledo Express that left passengers scrambling.
A staff report accompanying the port board resolution Thursday noted the popularity of flights between Toledo Express and Punta Gorda, Fla. that ran for five winters before scheduled-charter carrier DirectAir abruptly ceased operations in March and declared bankruptcy.
Port officials hoped they had a successor when Vision Airlines started twice-weekly flights June 1 between Toledo and Myrtle Beach, S.C., with service planned through October . But Vision yanked the Toledo route after four weeks because of weak ticket sales.
The port authority spent about $36,000 promoting Vision's flights before their cancellation.
Three years ago, it spent about $120,000 to promote a startup airline called JetAmerica that scheduled, and sold tickets for, flights between Toledo and Newark, but abandoned the plan before the first takeoff.
Aviation Advantage, Mr. Toth said, is working up a plan to set up scheduled charters between Southwest Florida and several cities.
"In order to finalize this, they really needed our commitment up front," the port president told the board.
"There are other airports involved in this deal. They're looking to lease a plane and guarantee hours for it," Mr. Toth said in a later interview.
According to its Web site, Aviation Advantage has been in business since 2004 as an air-charter broker and service coordinator that provides aircraft, airport station operations, security compliance, flight tracking, and other services.
The company promotes service development for "underserved cities and destinations," citing as an example its establishment of flights between the Allentown, Pa., area and Florida "in concert with Lehigh Valley International Airport as Lehigh Valley Air."
The proposed Florida service would not involve a $750,000 federal Small Community Air Service grant awarded to the port authority a year ago that, combined with a $250,000 local match, offers a $1 million subsidy for an airline starting new service to Toledo Express.
The port authority named Denver as its primary candidate for such service, with several other cities as alternatives, but none in Florida.
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