I wonder why I’m thinking about airports today? Perhaps it has to do with writing this (on Friday) while sitting in an airport in Austin, Texas.
I’m not such a big fan of flying these days, just something I have to do with my work. But I remember a time when I was a kid and my parents or grandparents would make the 10 mile or so drive out of Youngstown, and park by the fences on Route 193 and watch the planes land and take off.
There seemed to be lots of flights in and out of Youngstown back then. The airport at one time was served by United, US Airways (and its predecessor Allegheny), Northwest and its predecessors) and even Pan Am. Back then, I suspect there was much more company travel on commercial aviation. For a time when my dad was a department store buyer, he flew regularly out of the airport.
That brings me to one of my favorite flying memories–the first time I flew. My dad was on a buying trip to Washington. I don’t remember much about the actual flight, which was on a turbo-prop plane. I got to go to dinner with all these business types and then hung out at the hotel while my dad did some business. Then we had all day Saturday to tour Washington. This was back in the late 60’s when no one worried about security threats. He had to stay in DC so I flew back alone–my first flight alone!
That’s actually the only time I flew out of what was then Youngstown Municipal Airport. I do remember one time when my grandparents went out to see Barry Goldwater during his 1964 presidential campaign. He got off the plane, made a short speech, talking about how we should send LBJ back to his ranch to toss beer cans out his window!
The airport had its beginning as a WPA project in 1939, opening a year later. It was not Youngstown’s first airport. That distinction belongs to Lansdowne Airport, on the northeast side, which opened in 1926. It’s longest runway is just over 3000 feet and it did not have the room to expand to accommodate the larger planes. On the other hand, Youngstown airport’s longest runway is over 9,000 feet long and can accommodate planes as large as a Boeing 757.
Air travel declined in the years after the mill closings and in the early 2000’s there was no scheduled service. In 2006 Allegiant Air started serving the area. Just under 7,000 people flew out of what is now called the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in 2005. By 2014, that number was up to 60,000, along with charters to destinations like Atlantic City. Nevertheless a large part of the airport traffic is still general aviation and military, with the Youngstown-Warren Air Reserve Station a major user of the airport.
Will air travel ever come back to what it once was in the heyday of the airport? I kind of doubt it. Under today’s air system, it is far easier to go to Cleveland and Pittsburgh where one can get a direct flight to many destinations. Apart from favorite vacation locations, there are few routes that would warrant the traffic except possibly a flight to a hub.
Nevertheless, the airport is still an important part of the greater Youngstown economy, between the general aviation and military use and Allegiant’s presence. And Lansdowne? The airport was part of a scheme to bring in a blimp company in the 1980’s that never flew. My understanding is that it is owned by Boardman Steel and still used for general aviation but is in poor condition. The AirNav website indicates the asphalt is breaking up in places and advises calling the airport manager before landing to determine the pavement condition. I’ve seen online discussion of converting the airport to an industrial park, which given its location near I-80 would make sense.
Like other aspects of Youngstown redevelopment, the use of the area’s airport space calls for intelligent and entrepreneurial decisions driven by real economic demand and not “pie (or blimp) in the sky” fantastic schemes. Hopefully the experiences of the last 40 years can lead to some wiser choices.
What are your memories of the Youngstown Airport? Did you ever fly out of there?