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Toledo Express adds roundtrip flights to Charlotte

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    Paul Toth, president and chief executive officer of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, announces a nonstop flight from Toledo to Charlotte at a news conference.

    THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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American Airlines will begin nonstop flights late this summer between Toledo Express Airport and Charlotte, airport officials announced Monday.

The airline will fly 50-passenger jets twice each way daily beginning Aug. 22.

“This new nonstop service to Charlotte provides Toledo and northwest Ohio with a multitude of new connecting flight options,” Paul Toth, president and chief executive officer of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said during a news conference in the airport terminal. “This service is a testament to the continued growth of the local economy and American’s belief in this region.”

The flights to Charlotte Douglas International Airport will take about 80 minutes, with departures scheduled from Toledo at 7 a.m. and 1:37 p.m. and arrivals from Charlotte due in at 1:02 and 11:47 p.m.

Although Mr. Toth said airfares are difficult to predict, airport Manager Joe Rotterdam said he expects a typical roundtrip fare of about $275 on the Toledo-Charlotte route.

Airline industry deregulation and changes made since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have caused Toledo and other small cities to lose substantial airline service, Mr. Toth said, but the port authority has worked to gain new flights.

Airline deregulation has favored major markets over smaller cities like Toledo, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) agreed during the news conference.

“The whole system favored what they called ‘big hubs.’ They just keep getting bigger,” Miss Kaptur said. “We’ve been existing in a market that economically has been favoring the Chicagos of the world. This [new route] is a real help to us in a very uneven marketplace.”

Mr. Toth said he expects American’s new service to boost passenger traffic at Toledo Express by as much as 30 percent. 

It will initially be subsidized by a $750,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant the port authority obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2011 and for which it obtained three extensions as it searched for a suitable airline.

The port authority will provide a $250,000 match to the federal grant to guarantee American $1 million in minimum revenue during the route’s first year.

Charlotte Douglas is the second largest hub on American’s system, behind Dallas-Fort Worth, based on daily departures, with Delta’s Atlanta hub ranked first among individual airlines, Mr. Rotterdam said.

American flies 678 daily departures to 150 destinations in 24 countries from Charlotte, Mr. Rotterdam said, including many East Coast cities now only available from Toledo to passengers willing to make two flight connections.

The airport manager said it’s typical for American to start a new route with two daily roundtrips, then either add more flights or assign larger aircraft if the route is successful.

Wendy Gramza, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will encourage local businesses to use the new flights for travel to offices and customers in the Charlotte area.

“Charlotte is really a unique market with a lot of opportunity,” Ms. Gramza said. “A number of companies that are members of the chamber have offices that have customers or vendors in the Charlotte area.”

But Toledo has lost service on several routes in recent years when airlines said they weren’t profitable enough — meaning that insufficient numbers of business travelers, who typically pay higher fares, were flying.

American in 2005 began daily service between Toledo and Dallas-Fort Worth, but dropped it just four months later.

“If the business community and the rest of the community don’t use it, it won’t be here for very long,” Ms. Gramza said.

She vowed the chamber would work with the port authority to inform the business community about the service and ensure it is utilized.

Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson said Toledo Express is closer and less of a hassle than using Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, which now dominates the air-travel market from Toledo.

“This is good news because it means there is service from here to major hubs. I’m hopeful we’ll see more opportunities for people to use this wonderful facility,” Mayor Hicks-Hudson said. The city owns Toledo Express and leases it for $1 a year to the port authority.

The city will continue to look for the lowest total cost for its business travel, the mayor said, including consideration for the lower travel time and parking rates to use Toledo Express as well as airfare.

Miss Kaptur said the new service also could be attractive to Toledoans who own time-share condominiums in North Carolina or Florida.

“It was such a pleasure driving in here this morning — there’s the parking, there’s the airport. You don’t have to spend an hour lost in some garage trying to get to your flight,” she said.

American Airlines operates the only current daily flights at Toledo Express: three Chicago roundtrips to and from O’Hare International Airport. Allegiant Airlines operates flights several times per week between Toledo and three Florida cities, but dropped a summer-only route it offered last year between Toledo and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Several speakers bemoaned how deregulation of the airline industry allowed airlines to eliminate service in medium and small markets, and to concentrate at large hubs. Toledo is especially hurt because it is so close to Detroit Metro Airport.

Aviation expert Russell Mills of Bowling Green State University said American’s move opens up Toledo to the East Coast because of Charlotte’s connections to other airports.

“You can fly up and down the East Coast without having to go west [to Chicago],” Mr. Mills said.

“I think the fares are going to be lower on some of these routes than they would be on Delta out of Detroit. It’s much more convenient to fly out of Toledo Express. The key to the whole success is whether the business supports the service,” Mr. Mills said.

In 2016, 180,471 people got on or off planes at Express. As recently as 2004, when Toledo had three dozen flights per day, more than 600,000 air passengers used the local airport.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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