Some taxpayers were dismayed last week to hear that the federal government is paying for almost $2 million in safety upgrades at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave.
Why is the Federal Aviation Administration providing so much money to an airport where just a small fraction of the traffic is generated by a scheduled airline?
SHD — as it is known by its airport code — is Virginia’s smallest commercial airport. Silver Airways, a United Airlines regional airline, is SHD’s sole passenger carrier, with three weekday departures and arrivals and skimpier service on weekends.
A market as small as ours is lucky to have any passenger service and is only guaranteed it by the federal Essential Air Service program, established post-deregulation to keep unprofitable airports open to passenger traffic. Thanks to industry consolidation and SHD’s low demand, a second airline is not likely in the near future.
Even so, private and business aviation remain strong at SHD, and a Virginia Department of Aviation study says SHD adds an estimated $26 million annually to Augusta County’s economy. On Tuesday, flights were in and out of SHD from Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, many representing the region’s largest employers. It’s as intregal to the local economy as the Interstate highways or the railroad network.
Would naysayers rather SHD become a place to grow corn rather than a vital link in the local economy?
The federal program paying for the safety upgrades is entirely user-funded. Airline ticket taxes and non-airline jet fuel taxes cover the costs. If you don’t fly, none of your tax dollars are going to the safety upgrades.
Our view is that SHD is an important part of our local infrastructure. If federal dollars are available to keep it maintained and safe, then of course SHD should take advantage of that funding. Further, infrastructure investments in safety are an excellent use of tax dollars.
The alternative is an outdated airport that is even less attractive to all carriers, and even worse, less safe.