Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 5, 2013

Aggressive approach — Improvements welcomed at airport

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Although the facility remains grounded in terms of commercial air service, long-needed improvements are finally beginning to take shape at the Mercer County Airport. These are welcomed steps that should help to enhance a facility that is still critical to our region’s future.

For example, the airport finally has a new freightliner snow plow, which arrived last week. Just a year or two ago, the airport would be closed during periods of heavy snow due to the lack of proper equipment needed to keep the runway cleared. The new truck has been specifically designed for use on the local runway, and it includes a large, heavy steel snowblade that can clear snow from the runway quickly.

The airport authority board members are also working on ways to improve awareness of the local airport, including providing updated information online about the price of aviation fuel at the airport while also working behind the scenes to locate less expensive fuel for the facility.

The board also is working with Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, to schedule a long-overdue meeting with Susan Chernenko, executive director of the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Commission. The purpose of the meeting, according to authority member Charlie Cole, is to help put the airport “ahead of the curve” in terms of assistance from the state.

The board is also planning to utilize $15,000 in remaining funds from an earlier grant to help cover the expense of a new motor for the airport’s existing one-ton truck, and to make repairs to a hanger door.

The board members also appear to be moving forward with a long-range plan to erect two new hangers at the airport. And the authority is working with Bluefield State College to help promote awareness and participation in a new private pilot ground school course. The first class meeting was held on Jan. 28 with about 20 students enrolled.

Cole, who was appointed to the airport authority board last year along with Dr. Gary Brown, is hoping that the airport can be utilized to help enhance the experience the students attending the course receive.

 “I think it’s real encouraging that the course has this much interest,” Cole said of the new program. “We want these 20 students to become 20 student pilots.”

Michael Crews, chairman of the airport authority, has asked Airport Manager Randall Earnest to see what can be done to make the facility user friendly for the students.

Cole, Brown and the full airport authority board are to be applauded for taking these small, but necessary steps. Anything that can help to enhance the county airport should be aggressively pursued. While there is still much work to be done in order to make the facility a top-notch general aviation airport, the steps that are being taken today will help in reversing the downward spiral we’ve seen at the airport since the departure of Colgan Air and the loss of commercial air service in late 2007.

Can some form of commercial air service or air taxi service still be restored in the future? Perhaps. Anything is possible with a positive attitude, and an aggressive board that is willing to fight for the betterment of this airport. But, for now, the board members must work to operate, grow and market a successful general aviation airport — with an air taxi or commercial service plan viewed as a long-term goal. And working with Chernenko, the state aviation board, and local lawmakers will be key in accomplishing that goal.