Back on May 2, in my Rolling Aviation Thoughts post, one of the items was about how Toledo Express Airport is still looking for an airline to provide service. The airport received a $750,000 Small Community Air Service grant seven months ago with the goal of bringing in a carrier, with no luck. The problem is the city’s close proximity to Detroit Metro Airport, where folks can — and do — just drive from Toledo for lower fares.
In that article, air service consultant Mike Boyd was quoted saying that “it’s time for air-service hospice” at Express. And I agreed with him 100%. But in a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade, Jerry Chabler, Chairman Airport Committee Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, took exception with Boyd’s blunt assessment about air service out of the airport.
“That kind of talk is reckless. Read by representatives of airlines with whom we are in talks, or by passengers flying into and out of Express, those words will not be helpful.” Chabler wrote. He also took exception with Boyd’s comment that “the local airport is a lost cause.”
I can understand how Mr. Chabler feels. It’s his job to try to get air service into Toledo Express. But I also don’t think he’s being realistic about that facility’s chances of getting air service anytime soon. Even Toledo’s mayor — theoretically the facility’s biggest booster — was caught driving to Detroit.
Chabler needs to take a look at his airport’s own numbers. The airport reached its peak traffic in 1997, when AirTran was offering direct service to Orlando.
Since then, it’s been a revolving door of airlines at Toledo Express, including Delta Connection, Continental Express, American Eagle, Northwest Airlink and Direct Air, which abruptly ended service in March. Airlines have been cutting service to marginal and low-performing markets since 2001, and they have become very picky about where they put their resources.
The fact that despite receiving $1.3 million in federal Small Community Air Service grants in the past five years (giving back $750,000), the airport still can’t attract an airline.
When I worked at Mesa air back in 2001-2002, one of my jobs was to do presentations to communities for their Essential Air Service contracts (read about my thoughts on that program here). It was always interesting to meet with city officials, because they would make these outrageous service demands, knowing full well they could barely justify the service they had only because of the largess of the federal government. They felt like it was their right to have air service in a post-deregulation world.
And Mr. Chabler seems to feel the same way about Toledo Express despite the reality of a new airline world order where smaller cities will continue to fight just to keep what little service they still have. Travelers in the region have voted — they prefer to drive to Detroit and make their own connections to the global air transportation system.
Another letter to the editor applauded Boyd’s frank assessment and suggested that the Port Authority focus on providing a shuttle service to Detroit instead of chasing after airlines. I agree, and a good model of how well it works is operating in my own back yard.
I was talking with John Presburg, an old friend from my regional airline days. He retired from US Airways Express carrier Piedmont Airlines and created a BayRunner Shuttle, a van service to Washington National, Washington Dulles and BWI Airport from Maryland cities, including several that no longer have air service. I hope Toledo Express looks at doing something similar instead of chasing after something that will probably not be coming back.