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Passenger service at Toledo Express Airport is on a trend to finish the year with higher numbers than the previous year for the first time since 2004, and the airport's budgeted $675,000 deficit for the current year has been eliminated, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority president Paul Toth said in a presentation to the airport committee today.
The two-hour briefing to the committee appeared to be part of a pushback by the port authority, longtime operators of the city-owned airport, to a campaign by the Treece family of Sylvania Township to take it over.
Port officials said passenger traffic for the first 11 months of the year is up 8 percent over the first 11 months of 2012, and that the 13,512 passengers who used Toledo Express in November was a 34 percent increase over the same month in 2012.
Officials attributed the increase largely to a year-long marketing effort that included well-placed Internet ads, coupons for free parking printed in The Blade and other papers, and free tickets raffled off at Bowling Green State University and University of Toledo football games.
Allegiant carried 6,935 total passengers in November, an 81 percent increase over the same month in 2012, and American Airlines carried 6,399 passengers from Toledo o Chicago, an increase of 5 percent in November.
If the passenger activity continues through this month Toledo Express Airport will finish 2013 with the first increase over the previous year since 2004.
“Last year we made a commitment to increase our activity to retain and create passenger traffic,” Mr. Toth said. “It’s important for this board to understand we’re not just sitting on our hands waiting for things to happen."
Private financial advisor Dock Treece and his two sons and business partners, Dock David, 26, and Ben Treece, 25, have been portraying the Port Authority as failing to take full advantage of the airport’s potential.
The three would have to get Toledo City Council and the mayor to authorize a new lease-purchase agreement with them and end their $1-a-year lease to the port authority. So far no specific legislation has been introduced and the Treeces are still gradually disclosing parts of the their plan for running the airport.
An 86-page marketability study released last week identified about a dozen types of business that the airport could support, but port board officials said none of the suggestions are new to the port staff.
Dock David Treece said the marketability study will remain on the company Web site through the holidays
“We will wait until the discussion about the marketability study is complete and then come out with the business plan and hope to have a hearing or some discussion about our proposal," he said.
The presentation featured several pointed questions from port authority board members aimed at deflating claims by the Treeces about the port authority’s expertise in running airports, the possibility of the Ohio Air National Guard base closing, and the advisability of consolidating fuel sales at the airport.
Mr. Toth said there is no plan for a new base-closing commission, and he said the 180th Fighter Wing has survived previous Pentagon cutbacks because the unit is “the best in the United States.”
He said Toledo is in competition with Detroit Metro Airport that specializes in low fares and has a large array of nonstop flights.
Thomas Winston, the chief financial officer, said the airport saw profits from 2001 to 2010, and experienced deficits totaling about $540,000 in 2011 and 2012. He said the deficit projected at $675,000 for this year has been wiped out through cost-cutting and with new revenues.
Jim Renda, business development manager for Grand Aire fixed base operator, endorsed the port authority’s management of the airport, which started in 1973.
“No I don’t think that they could do as good a job,” Mr. Renda said of the Treeces, in response to a question from airport committee chairman Jerry Chabler. “I read that market study. Some of the information we deal with is not correct.”
Mr. Treece said, “it is good to see the port authority having positive relations with one of their tenants to make up for terrible relations with the others. Even so, we think we can be a far better partner with Grand Aire going forward.”