Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

February 23, 2014

Aviation activity: Budget cuts will hurt airport

— — Recent funding cuts to the Mercer County Airport are detrimental to ongoing efforts aimed at enhancing and upgrading this important facility.

A number of recent improvements have been enacted at the airport, and there is still much work to be done to ensure the best possible general aviation facility for our region. But work is continuing despite the funding cuts. For example, a long-planned taxiway upgrade at the airport was advertised for construction just this week. That project is being funded through a welcomed federal grant.

The project calls for an extension of the existing taxiway to the end of the runway, according to Airport Manager Clint Ransom. The extension project was requested by the Federal Aviation Administration, and will help to improve safety at the airport.

In the meantime, Ransom and members of the airport authority board are hoping to find additional funding to create more hangar space for airplanes at the facility.

All of the airport’s current hangar space is now filled, according to Ransom. In the past, the airport rented space to owners of recreational vehicles, but aircraft have a priority on any available space.

Besides renting space, the airplanes’ owners buy fuel and operate them from the airport. The FAA considers the number of take offs and landings when determining whether to provide grant funding.

“We would like to build eight new hangar units,” Ransom said last week. “That’s something that would have to be funded by private grants, the county or the airport authority. There’s no federal grant money available for this.”

But instead of seeing additional help from the Mercer County Commission, members of the airport authority board learned last week that the county’s annual contribution to the airport is being reduced. The county commission had been providing the airport authority $120,000 a year. However, a cut of $30,000 was made last week, reducing the annual contribution to $90,000.

We realize times are tough, and the county has to balance its budget. Complicating matters are chronic woes such as regional jail bills that have been and are still too high. However, we would urge the commissioners to take a second look at their budget to ensure that there is no extra fat that could be cut elsewhere.

Because creating and maintaining a top-notch general aviation airport — something that had been lacking after the county lost its critical commercial air service status back in 2008 — must be a priority for the county. Many prospective businesses and industries will not even consider locating into our area without such a high-quality airport in place.

Simply put — the airport is imperative to future economic development and tourism growth for our region. Cutting funding to the facility will not help this cause.

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