The North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport was closed to air traffic for a few days recently as more than 11,000 tons of fresh asphalt was put in place on the runway at the facility. During today’s Benedum Airport Authority meeting, it was learned that air traffic will be limited over several days coming up and commercial service may also be missing.
Interim Airport Director Rick Rock told the Airport Authority – the governing body of NCWVA – that flights will not be allowed from 9 p.m. to 6
a.m. every day starting July 23and ending July 31. Thrasher Engineering’s Chad Biller, who serves as the airport's engineer, said work on the runway that involves the grooving of the recently laid asphalt will take place at that time.
While that may be more of an inconvenience to private pilots, what was more of a concern to Airport Authority members is the transfer of commercial service from Colgan Airlines to Silver Airlines. Colgan, the commercial provider receiving a federal subsidy to provide essential air service, will be replaced August 1 at Silver Airlines.
Initially, it was thought that the switch would be without any hiccups. However, there is at least one key issue that may hold up an immediate transfer between services of the airlines that both have agreements with United Airlines.
“The change into a new type of aircraft is something that could interrupt service,” Rock said.
Colgan Air, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection, utilizes a Beechcraft 1900, which seats up to 19 passengers. Silver Airlines uses the SAAB 340, which seats up to 34 passengers. Training by the pilots needed to switch over is required, airport officials said.
“For us, the main problem is how will it affect our customers? That’s the concern,” Rock said.
As for the runway paving, Biller had nothing but praise for the project that, to this point, has proceeded better than anyone had hoped for. Biller, who said the massive paving effort took four days, gave praise to the contractor, J.F. Allen, and said the near-finished product is impressive.
"I've been on six or seven airport runways in the state and you have one of the best surfaces by far," Biller said.
Also this afternoon, the Authority discussed the request by G.A.L Land Company to purchase roughly 13 acres situated outside the fence of the airport. Authority member and Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie said he had talked with G.A.L. representative Andy Lang about his request and said the Authority may be willing to lease the land as opposed to selling it. The land appraised at $20,000 an acre. Christie said Lang was willing to listen to any proposal, but would prefer to buy the property that is situated outside the fence in the area between the West Virginia Army National Guard building and U.S. Route 50. A lengthy discussion ensued on whether the property should be leased or sold with most pointing toward a potential 40-year lease as the preferred method.
“I’d like to see (Lang) lease it and be done with it … Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Authority member Roger Diaz.
Christie pointed out that Lang owns property in the same area that also abuts existing airport property that he would be willing to trade if it would help facilitate the transaction. In order to determine if that is feasible, as well as to look at whether the property may have any future use to the airport, Christie will be joined by authority members Diaz, Harrison County Commissioner Mike Romano and Richard “Buck” Thompson. Christie will chair that group that is to report their findings back to the Authority.
Diaz said he also had concerns about the price of the property. He said land at the end of the runway near State Route 279 has been
appraised at roughly $250,000 for three acres. This land, which he believes is comparable, comes in at $20,000 per acre. Officials confirmed that the appraisal on both sections of property was done by the same appraiser.
As for the lease price, Diaz said he “didn’t think it was fair” to the Authority. Based on a 40-year lease on the appraised value, roughly $8,000 annually would be paid to the Authority. Christie said that came out to a 1.3 cents a square foot.
“That’s not a lot of money,” Christie said.
Although concerned about the price, Diaz was more concerned about giving up the property and putting future Airport Authority members in a bind if that property was needed.
“I think we’d like to maintain control of that property for anything unforeseen in the future,” Diaz said.
In other business, the Benedum Airport Authority:
Heard from Diaz that Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex (MAAC) Director Tracy Miller that was willing to work with the airport and Rock on projects undertaken by the airport “in any capacity.”
Heard from Tom Stose, the director of the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, on the latest at the center. Stose said he would like to have as many as 50 students enrolled at their facility a year and that he’s been attending various events involving high school students to make that happen. He also added that many of the most recently graduated students “have already gone to work” at facilities at the airport. Rock suggested perhaps having a job fair at the airport to help get more individuals interested.
That other than funds related to bankruptcy that may not be recovered, Colgan Airlines appears to be paid up on fees owed to the airport through June.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie, foreground, and Marion County Commissioner Butch Tennant, both Airport Authority members, discussing issues relating to a potential sale of property at the airport. Middle photo shows Authority members Roger Diaz, left, and Buck Thompson during the debate on issues relating to leasing or selling land at the facility. Bottom photo shows a Colgan Airline plane waiting to take passengers. The airline will no longer provide service after July 31 and will be replaced by Silver Airlines.