Thursday, March 31, 2016

Major airline would benefit North Central West Virginia Airport (KCKB) and region, Clarksburg Council told

Clarksburg Councilman Gary Bowden, foreground, asks a question during Thursday's Clarksburg City Council work session.

CLARKSBURG — The right airline could take the North Central West Virginia Airport to new heights, Clarksburg City Council heard Thursday.

A financial incentive package is necessary, though, to lure such a carrier to a small operation that relies on Essential Air Service subsidies, airport Director Rick Rock said.

"We want a partner we can grow with," Rock told city council during a work session at Clarksburg City Hall. "The subsidy helps get them here, but eventually we want to get past that subsidy."

Rock attended the work session to ask council to contribute $250,000 to the incentive package. That's the same amount that Bridgeport and Harrison County Commission have pledged.

Airport Director Rick Rock

The airport’s Essential Air Service contract expires Sept. 30, and the Benedum Airport Authority would like to land a large carrier that flies to a major hub such as Charlotte, North Carolina.

Silver Airways is the current Essential Air Service carrier at the airport, providing flights to Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

With airlines being risk-averse, the community would need to come up with $2 million to combine with the federal  subsidies to convince a major carrier to take a chance on the rural airport, Rock said.

So far, about $1.45 million has been pledged formally or informally from public and private entities, Rock said.

"This is a one-time opportunity to get them (large airlines) to take a chance and put their assets here instead of somewhere else," Rock said.

The pledge funds would serve as collateral for a line of credit, Rock said.

The line of credit would only be drawn on if the passenger count doesn't meet projections, Rock added.

Councilman Chad Sigmon said attracting a carrier that flies to Charlotte would be exciting, given the number of West Virginia natives who live there.

Councilman Bob Caplan agreed, saying air service could entice some of those state natives to return for a show at the soon-to-be-restored Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center.

"You're going to fulfill a need for this city — that's the way I see it," Caplan said.

Mayor Cathy Goings asked Rock how many carriers he expects to submit proposals by the May 3 deadline.

At least two carriers have indicated they plan to bid for the Essential Air Service package, including the current provider, Rock replied.

City Manager Martin Howe said he will include the pledge request on the agenda for next week's meeting for council to consider.

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