Sunday, January 21, 2018

Editorial: Invest in Toledo Express Airport (KTOL)

The 9-percent jump in passenger use of Toledo Express Airport — the result of new airline passenger service to Charlotte, N.C. — is a good sign of momentum at an airport that has struggled, sometimes resignedly so, in the shadow of Detroit Metro.

Now is the time for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to look beyond the drama at the port board meetings, and rally the community to build on buzz created by the heightened activity at the airport.

American Eagle’s twice-daily roundtrips to Charlotte boosted the airline’s Toledo traffic by 30 percent for the year, for a local total of 87,156 passengers.

Charlotte, N.C., is more than a destination by itself. The airport is a hub that gives Toledo connections throughout the South. 

Through American Eagle’s flights to Chicago O’Hare Airport, Toledo Express also has has daily connecting flights to the West.

A reasonable goal for Toledo now is to connect to a hub in the Northeast —  Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Washington, or Boston.

The port authority has done a commendable job of maintaining the asset that is Toledo Express Airport. The board recently was able to lease out the former BAX Global facility that went dark after the air freight business collapsed. The port authority has also reroofed the terminal, built a new Customs office, resurfaced runways, and helped facilitate creation of an aviation academy in conjunction with Toledo Public Schools, Bowling Green State University, and Owens Community College. (And it is already a great school, sending kids into the workplace with a marketable skill. Its potential is unlimited.)

What has been sorely lacking has been the boardroom level effort to attract carriers to that well-maintained asset — not just the Port Authority’s board room, but of the corporate headquarters of Toledo’s businesses. That has to change.

Granted, there are circumstances that make passenger travel an uphill climb for Toledo Express Airport. It is located at least 25 minutes away from downtown, while travelers are already within an easy 50-minute trip to Detroit Metro, a major airline hub that serves more than 140 destinations, and offers competitive fares. 

As a regional airport, Toledo is often compared with Akron-Canton Airport, which has many more passenger flight options than Toledo has. The reality is that Akron-Canton serves a bigger population center than does Toledo and competes with a lower-level aviation hub airport in Cleveland Hopkins, which serves only 50 destinations.

Russell Mills, an aviation professor at Bowling Green State University, says other cities have succeeded in bringing airlines to their communities by cracking open the local wallet. Fort Wayne has a link with Philadelphia now because it offered a $2.5 million subsidy-guarantee. By comparison, Toledo’s subsidy to American Eagle for the Charlotte link was $1 million.

Mr. Mills also finds that states around Ohio — but not Ohio — contribute to their airport aviation subsidies.

Professor Mills has been working with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce to build support among the Toledo area’s businesses for a more robust use of the airport.

Toledo is feeling stronger these days, and rightly so, having survived the Great Recession with its major industries intact and with new professional investment, and an infusion of people, in our downtown. Success breeds success, and a renewed, vital airport should be next. Our business and government leaders need to step up. Invest in Toledo Express.

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