By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Airports worldwide, whether large or small, are always deliberating how they can improve their efficiency. Challenges at North Central West Virginia Airport (NCWVA) in Bridgeport seemed to draw more attention from its leaders following 9/11. Due to increased restrictions put on airports following that incident, NCWVA was unable to qualify for federal funding. Fixing that required some creativity, according to Ron Watson, President of the Airport Authority.
“That is just what we did,” he said. “We got creative and we improved our enplanements. At that time, we were struggling to have 10,000 enplanements per year. Now, however, we are very close to 40,000 enplanements during the year, which is a remarkable improvement!”
Watson noted that they have also taken over fixed base operations, including the sale of fuel for airplanes coming and going from CKB.
“Our use of Allegiant charters to Sanford/Orlando has been very successful and now we offer trips to Myrtle Beach. We are currently a ‘top’ Allegiant airport where they are providing services,” he added. “And with our flights this year with commercial airlines going to Chicago, there has been an unbelievable number of riderships. These commercial carriers are jets, not prop planes! And we are still the major airport for West Virginia University’s Big XII flights. All of this has improved our position.”
Watson has served on the Airport Authority Board for 16 years now. It is a 10-member Board of Directors with five directors from Marion County and five from Harrison County serving. After 16 years, Watson says he has been there through many of the struggling times and is more than pleased that now NCWVA has reached the point where taxpayers don’t need to subsidize it.
“As we begin 2019, our local airport has generated enough revenue that we are self-sustaining. Many folks don’t realize what a major contributor we are to the local economy,” he continued. “I’m speaking of an annual impact of over a billion dollars! There are 2,000 people employed on airport property. Now that Fairmont State University has a flight school, we intend to work very closely with them … and Pierpont is educating and training individuals to work in this field as well, and we have a close relationship with them too. But we are still looking to improve.”
Among the improvements they will focus on in 2019 are a renovation of the terminal and procuring as much property as they can get.
“We already own quite a bit on the outside of the fence of the airport, and we are in the process of developing the Benedum Logistics Park on adjacent unused property where companies in this industry could use it for storage and warehouses. We are still looking to provide improvements and growth. Although we are pleased with how far we have come, we want to further our facility. Area communities are supporting the airport and using it, but we can still continue to grow,” he said.
Shawn Long, the Deputy Director of NCWVA, said the Benedum Logistics Park is a big project.
“We’re hoping it will supply existing businesses and potential new ones in the industry with warehousing and storage space on this five acres. We applied for a US ADA grant and were successful in getting it. The total project cost will be $2.1 million dollars. The plan is to grade out the property and build an access road, giving tenants the ability to have multiple 20,000 square foot buildings in that 5-acre area of ground,” Long stated.
He said they anticipate breaking ground sometime this Spring, but they are not certain of the timeline yet since there is an environmental process to go through. Then they will have a clearer picture of when it will be complete.
“The money has already been awarded and we are going through the final design of the project, working with Thrasher Engineering to get the project ready to be put out to bid. This will be a drawing card for those coming into the area. We’ll be adding support to the existing tenants but also looking to draw more interest from new ones,” he said.
Long stated that NCWVA is also very proud to be the home of the WV Aviation Hall of Fame that honors pioneers of aviation in the Mountain State and those who have promoted it and helped it develop in West Virginia.
“We put in a competitive proposal to have it put here in Bridgeport and the selection committee of the WV Airport Managers Association awarded it to us. With two dozen or more airports in West Virginia, it is very prestigious that we have this at NCWVA. The inaugural class in 2014 began with five inductees and two additional people have been inducted each year since then.”
Andy Lang and David Hinkle are two other Airport Authority board members who are acting as co-chairs on developing the five acres that will become the Benedum Logistics Park.
Lang joined the Airport Authority when he was elected Mayor of Bridgeport, and Hinkle, fairly new to the Harrison County Commission, also sits on the board. With both being new members of the Airport Authority, they wanted to learn more and started a special projects committee that directly focuses on the needs of the airport.
“The first thing we learned was that there is the ‘airport side’ that deals with airport operations but also there is an ‘industrial side’ of the airport. We have met with people within the aerospace property around the airport; we have learned a lot about the airport from Thrasher; we have met with state and federal officials. Now we meet weekly all the time to try to find ways to grow the airport even more,” Lang said.
Lang says that he and Hinkle have spent about a year “getting educated” about the airport – understanding where the funding can come from. The committee meetings have been a group learning process.
“We’ve identified from meeting with companies on the aerospace side that they would like to have more space … and that’s where this additional five acres comes into play. We have received a grant to build the logistics park with some matching funds. We can get at least one building built, and actually someone on the aerospace side has already expressed an interest in occupying one of the spaces. We’re sure more will come,” he continued.
Lang and Hinkle are in agreement that Airport Director Rick Rock and Tracy Miller, Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex Director, are doing a fine job. The folks from Marion County have also been very supportive of the focus on growth.
“We also know that we need a larger terminal,” Lang added. “We have looked at building a new terminal, but we need funding to do that. We’re not looking to jump into going into debt, so we would like to have another year of record enplanements before we focus on how to move forward with terminal enlargement. However, Allegiant and United may add a few flights in the first quarter of this year, so that too will be an asset to us.”
Numbers have “soared” during the past few years so it is not strange that expansion may be necessary. Certainly, the Airport Authority is seeking to obtain every avenue of growth they can to better serve the people who have supported NCWVA by using it. Look for more progress and growth to take place as NCWVA takes flight into 2019!