Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Loss of flight could mean layoffs at Yeager Airport (KCRW), Charleston, West Virginia

Wednesday May 22, 2013

by Paul Fallon, Daily Mail Staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority could be forced to lay off employees in order to reduce its operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Board members discussed the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget during a meeting Wednesday.

They learned that $675,000 must be reduced from the proposed budget, bringing it down to around $5.3 million, because of a revenue shortfall caused by the elimination of the Orlando flight last year.

The authority can eliminate about $300,000 from the proposed budget by possibly laying off a "few employees" and leaving other positions unfilled, said airport director Rick Atkinson.

Two to four employees could be laid off and an additional three positions could be eliminated through attrition, he said.

The number of employees to be laid off would depend on whether the airport could receive leniency from federal authorities on some future technology purchases.

Employees will be asked to pay higher insurance premiums, which could reduce the budget by about $26,000, Atkinson said.

The authority also will not allocate 3 percent merit raises during the upcoming fiscal year, saving another $75,000.

Members also plan to reduce the amount of money placed in the authority's reserve fund from $400,000 to $300,000, and the authority will not allocate $150,000 to help pay for airport marketing to slash the budget, Atkinson said.

Losing the Orlando flight has meant that about 20,000 fewer passengers used Yeager Airport from last year to this year.

The loss of traffic caused the airport's landing fee to jump from $3.55 per every 1,000 landing pounds this fiscal year to $4.74 per every 1,000 landing pounds during the upcoming fiscal year.

The $5.3 million budget incorporates a $3.55 landing fee for every 1,000 landing pounds.

The landing pounds are determined by the weight of the plane coming in to the airport. The airlines pay the fee to the airports.

The $3.55 landing fee will keep the airport "competitive" said authority chairman Ed Hill.

"We would be doing our airport and our customers a great disservice by raising our landing fees," Hill said.

Raising landing fees could force airlines to eliminate flights in to and out of the airport, further reducing revenue.

"That would make us less competitive and less attractive to airlines," he said. "It's important for the board to consider all other avenues to accommodate our shortfall.

"We recognize how vital it is for the airport to stay competitive and active," Hill said. "We have to maintain profitability."

The board members also are looking at cutting expenses wherever they can, Hill said, and on Wednesday the authority opted not to purchase a $30,000 truck.

Although the board is struggling financially, a proposal to help fund a $7 million to $9 million bridge from U.S. 119 near Mink Shoals to the back end of Coonskin Park is still moving forward.

The bridge must be built in order to keep the West Virginia Air National Guard base at Yeager Airport open, said retired Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, an airport authority board member.

There needs to be a secure entrance to the armory and air base, Tackett had previously said. Currently the facilities share an entrance with Coonskin Park.

While airport authority board could never use its general fund to pay for the bridge construction because of Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, it could use other funds, such as those generated by parking garage revenue, Atkinson said.

Tackett hopes to have the bridge construction financed by the airport authority, the National Guard, the commission and the City of Charleston.

The budget will be placed before the authority board for a final vote on June 27. 


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