Awaiting takeoff

Asight that may happen more often: a flight leaves Toledo Express Airport.
Asight that may happen more often: a flight leaves Toledo Express Airport.

Toledo Express Airport has far to go before it can declare a comeback. Two recent developments are positive, if small.

After a series of embarrassing pullouts by airlines, the airport's operator, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, offered this week to assume financial risk to guarantee flights by a small charter service. The authority is negotiating for flights between Toledo and southwest Florida from late December to mid-April. The port board is offering to cover losses if the flights lose money.

The airport recently got $10 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to help repave its main runway for the first time in 15 years. The work is to begin next spring and take five months.

It would be nice to think of the grant as a sign of Washington's confidence in the airport. But the runway needs to be maintained for Air National Guard flights even if Toledo Express loses what little passenger and cargo service it has left.

In June, an airline discontinued its direct service between Toledo and Myrtle Beach, S.C., barely a month after it started, even though the port authority had waived landing and terminal fees and provided advertising and marketing support. It was the eighth airline to leave Toledo Express in the past decade.

Someday, area voters may be asked to approve a taxpayer-supported authority that is solely dedicated to airport operations. Port authority members say that structure has worked in similar-sized markets because it creates millions of dollars in subsidies.

But now's not the time. The chairman of the port authority's airport committee, Jerry Chabler, concedes an airport authority proposal would be an "exercise in futility" in the current economy.

Toledo Express is a victim of what went wrong with the U.S. airline industry as it dealt with deregulation and the economy soured. Forced to cut back during the Great Recession, businesses have had a hard time supporting flights from Toledo when less-expensive direct flights are available at Detroit Metro Airport, an hour's drive away.

Toledo Express isn't dead by any means, but the road back to good health inevitably will be long and arduous.