Jefferson Education Society Event Features Presentation and Q&A


On Friday, May 17, members of the Erie Regional Airport Authority (ERAA) — the governing body of the Erie International Airport (ERI) — led a community conversation about what’s happening at the airport, which featured a presentation and Q&A with an audience of approximately 80 people. 


Hosted by the Jefferson Educational Society of Erie (JES), a nonprofit think tank, at their building in downtown Erie, the hour-and-a-half event included valuable insight from ERAA Vice President Brian Slawin, President Dan Giannelli, and Executive Director Derek Martin. The topics centered around what the ERAA, ERI, the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, plus public and private sector partners, are doing to secure “more planes to more places.”  


Founded in 2008, JES was created to promote civic enlightenment and drive community progress for the Erie Region through the study, research, and discussion of ideas and events that have influenced the human condition. 


“We’re thankful to the Jefferson Educational Society for hosting the conversation and for all they do to help enhance the region,” said Giannelli. “The discussion was well-received and, based on feedback, helpful in educating and opening the minds of many attendees. We understand that Erie residents have a strong interest and often strong opinions when it comes to our airport operations, whether its frustration over current limitations or appreciation of our services. Hearing from and interacting with the community is essential to our growth efforts.” 


This was just one of many efforts taken by the ERAA and other organizations like the JES to better inform the public, address speculation, and unite the Erie community around ERI as it fights to overcome industry-wide post-pandemic challenges and provide feasible solutions.  


“We’ve talked to literally hundreds, probably verging on a thousand, citizens about what they really really want from their airport,” said Slawin to open the conversation. “A few truths: Erie can be an economic center of gravity for Northwest Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio. We’re not there yet, but we can be. Enhanced air service is an economic imperative. This isn’t just about getting more fun cool planes to go to more fun cool places — it is that — but it’s about the business that gets created and the advancements of our community when we do this right.” 


“Everything that you thought about air service prior to 2020 has changed,” added Slawin. “In the U.S., there are 19,400 airports and seaports. Only 406 have air carrier service. Three hundred of those 406 have lost some or all of their air carrier service since 2020. This is not an Erie thing; this is an industry thing.” 


“One of the biggest challenges that’s facing not just Erie but all airports in general is what’s happening in the economy — and what’s happening to Boeing in particular,” said Martin in response to an attendee’s question about the current challenges. “When Boeing sneezes, the industry catches a cold. This past year, United Airlines had firm delivery of 185 aircraft…but they’re only going to receive 61. Why does that matter? Low-cost carriers that we’re also courting are trying to pick up the used aircraft that United’s trying to get rid of. So it’s a domino effect: United can’t plan the way they wanted to. The low-cost carriers can’t plan for expansion and growth because they don’t have access to equipment. Because of that, those challenges have an effect on not only Erie but other locations around the United States that are trying to enhance air services since the global pandemic.”    


Addressing the ongoing debate about how the airport is funded, Slawin stated, “To be 100% clear: If you do not fly out of the Erie Airport, you do not pay for the Erie Airport. Period. Your tax dollars do not go to the operations of the Erie Airport…We hope you take that message with you out into the world.”


In answering many of the community’s questions, the ERAA members highlighted the airport’s convenience and overall cost-effectiveness. They also explained the role of the $1.5 million Fly Erie Fund — a critical lynchpin driving the economic future of the airport and enhancing air service so future passengers can look at “Erie First” for the best and least expensive flights.       


As a component of the Fly Erie First initiative, Slawin prompted the community to “ask questions, share ideas, get the facts, and ignore the trolls. Attend town halls…come to board meetings…learn more about what’s really happening at the airport, promote positive experiences (via social media, business colleagues, friends, and personal networks), and then contact us if you think we can do better.”


To view a recording of the community conversation online, click here.