Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Yeager Airport (KCRW) serves the region’s aviation needs

By Nick Keller 

As someone who is deeply engaged in the daily operation of Yeager Airport (CRW) as assistant airport director, I can assure you we are not operating in disarray. Rather, the dedicated employees at Yeager Airport can be found working, oftentimes behind the scenes, 24 hours a day to ensure each passenger’s safety and security.

Yeager Airport is proud to provide reliable air service. According to data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, between January 2016 and September 2017 over 78% percent of airline flights operated on time out of CRW, compared to 81% in Columbus and 82% in Cincinnati. Slightly over 2% of flights were canceled. As this measurable data indicates, Yeager Airport is reliable.

Airport staff remain in constant communication with our airline partners to expand and retain air service. We also work to obtain grants and provide other incentives to encourage carriers to provide service to CRW. Airline mergers and consolidation have led to fewer airlines; however, Yeager Airport has service from all major legacy carriers: American, Delta, and United. These airlines operate 18 flights daily. American Airlines recently upgraded to all jet service, and United will be doing so in January.

A new “regional” airport is unnecessary and not economically feasible. Yeager Airport is the regional airport and is centrally located — serving the needs of this region from Bluefield to Parkersburg, from Lewisburg to Pikeville, Ky. After years of study and consideration, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined over 10 years ago that a regional airport is unnecessary and not economically feasible in West Virginia. The entire state of West Virginia has a population of 1.8 million people, less than the metropolitan statistical area for Columbus, Ohio (2.5 million people). Even if a regional airport were approved and there was a viable location for it, construction would take 10-20 years, if not longer, to open. What would the state do for air service in the meantime?

Yeager Airport plays a vital role for the entire region providing access to the world economy through scheduled airline service, a general aviation facility with Customs that provides a world class terminal for business travelers, and the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 130th Airlift Wing.

Yeager Airport’s partnership with the West Virginia Air National Guard is a great benefit for both organizations and the state. The Air Guard provides 24-hour fire protection for the entire airport in exchange for leasing the base for one dollar a year. This arrangement allows the Department of Defense to keep the 130th Airlift Wing at Yeager Airport without paying to maintain their own airfield. Without this arrangement, the Department of Defense would not fund an airlift wing here.

Always forward thinking, the airport recognizes the need to extend our runway to meet the air service and aircraft demands forecasted for the next 20 years and for the Air National Guard, and we have the capacity to do so. Yeager Airport is planning to use available acreage for new hangars, air cargo, aircraft repair facilities, warehouses, shipping, etc. These facilities bring with them high wage, long term jobs, which our state desperately needs.

The creation of new jobs in this region must be a high priority and the airport would also like to be a part of the education of skilled employees. We are working towards establishing a post-secondary aviation school at Yeager Airport — where the airport and Air Guard base could be used as hands-on learning laboratories where students can complete internships and have job opportunities upon graduation. The school would provide a pipeline of workers for jobs in aviation and help us better attract aviation businesses.

As a young person, I was fortunate to return home to West Virginia after graduating from college. Many of my peers and countless others who want to live in West Virginia cannot do so due to a lack of jobs. Too many of our young people who want good paying jobs are forced to leave their families and the state they love for work elsewhere. Plans the airport is developing to improve our existing infrastructure, create a school and jobs in aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul will help move West Virginia forward.

I encourage the residents of our wild, wonderful state to use their local airports instead of driving and paying for hotel rooms in another city, as this would result in more flights and larger aircraft.

We welcome you to visit Yeager Airport Thursday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. for a celebration of both the anniversary of the first commercial flight out of Yeager Airport in 1947 and 15 years of our nonstop flight to Houston, Texas. Get to know us! #flyCRW

(Nick Keller is the assistant airport director at Yeager Airport.)

Original article  ➤ http://www.montgomery-herald.com

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