Toledo’s chances for flights to southwest Florida this winter dimmed substantially Thursday when the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority announced an air-service broker that had proposed such service had failed to seal the deal with another airport crucial to the plan.
Port officials had been negotiating with Aviation Advantage Inc. to operate seasonal flights, two roundtrips per week, between Toledo Express Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport, but the plan required the involvement of another airport “to take the balance of hours of aircraft time.”
Aviation Advantage’s negotiations with the other airport “proved unsuccessful,” the port authority reported.
Port President Paul Toth said Aviation Advantage had initiated discussions with Toledo because the other airport proposed to use only about 80 percent of the 250 flight hours per month that would be needed to sustain the lease of an airplane and crews.
But at the “eleventh hour,” the other airport backed out, he said.
Mr. Toth said he “had a hunch” about the other community's identity, but would not comment on that without knowing for sure.
“We're disappointed that we are not able to provide this service to the traveling public here in northwest Ohio,” Mr. Toth said. “We were 100 percent prepared to move forward with a route that has proven to be very popular with our travelers in the past.
"Unfortunately, Aviation Advantage was unable to come to an agreement with the other party involved in the transaction.”
Jerry Chabler, chairman of the port authority board of directors’ airport committee, said the Aviation Advantage proposal was a “staff initiative,” with port directors not involved in talks, and he had no reason to doubt Mr. Toth’s explanation for why it went sour.
“Unfortunately, it went south, so the plane isn't going south,” he said.
“It's very disappointing.”
DirectAir, a scheduled charter carrier, flew seasonal flights between Toledo Express and Punta Gorda, Fla., for several years before abruptly shutting down and declaring bankruptcy last winter.
That route’s popularity with local travelers made port officials confident they could find another carrier to step in, either to Punta Gorda or to another nearby airport. Southwest Florida International is near Fort Myers.
However, a carrier that began service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., June 1 and was thought a candidate to fly between Toledo and southwest Florida in the winter pulled out of the local airport after just four weeks, blaming poor ticket sales.
Mr. Toth said while it is possible another southwest Florida air-service prospect could be developed for Toledo, “it’s late in the game” to get flights this winter.
The port authority also has struggled to attract carriers for traditional business destinations such as New York and Denver despite getting federal grants to subsidize possible routes.
Except for American Eagle flights to Chicago, Toledo has lost all its traditional network airline service over the past decade as carriers slashed less-profitable routes in response to skyrocketing fuel prices and, during the recent economic recession, declining air travel.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.
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