VIENNA, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown used to get millions of dollars annually to help pay for air travel, but that’s not the case anymore.
The Federal Department of Transportation spends more than $268 million each year on something called the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, and Youngstown got some of that funding at one time.
The EAS program pays airlines to operate at small airports. It keeps the costs down for passengers.
This program means you can fly from Franklin, Pennsylvania to the Pittsburgh International Airport and back for about $50.
Youngstown had a seat in this program, but Youngstown-Regional Warren Airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten said location was a big reason why the airport lost funding.
“If you were closer than 70 miles to a hub airport, and we’re closer than 70 miles from Pittsburgh, then you no longer qualified for EAS funds,” he said.
That decision meant Youngstown lost millions in federal funding and the end of regular daily service.
So just how close is the Youngstown Airport to that 70-mile cutoff? It depends on where you measure.
Measuring from the terminal puts it at a little over 70 miles, qualifying the airport for federal money. Measuring from the passenger parking lot, however, makes it too close for funding — at 69.5 miles.
The Department of Transportation takes its measurement from the front gate, which puts Pittsburgh at 69 miles away. The decision was made in 1999, which is when the airport lost its funding.
“I don’t know exactly where the measurement points were, but we’ve tried and tried to see if we could get reestablished, but we’ve been unsuccessful,” Dickten said.
Meanwhile, the Venango Regional Airport in Franklin gets $1.4 million in funding each year, even though some of the flights are empty.
Dickten said Franklin’s airport flies a nine-seat aircraft back and forth to Pittsburgh. Although the Department of Transportation requires the airport to maintain a certain amount of passengers to keep its subsidy, it is well under its ridership goals.
WKBN begin investigating the EAS program last year, booking a flight from Pittsburgh. There were just three other people on the plane — about average for service there.
Venango County has asked for extensions from the Department of Transportation. Until a decision is made, taxpayers will continue paying $350 per ticket, with fewer than 4,000 fliers from the Venango Regional Airport each year.