Yeager board talks trash in boosting international air traffic

Gazette-Mail file photo

After West Virginia’s sole U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent retired from his post at Charleston’s Yeager Airport in December of 2014, it took two years of corresponding and cajoling by airport officials to convince the federal agency to assign a replacement, allowing Yeager to reclaim its former status as an official U.S. port of entry.

Port of entry status allows private, corporate and military aircraft to fly directly to Charleston from foreign locations without first having to stop at another airport to clear Customs, saving international travelers and freight haulers destined for West Virginia and neighboring states time and money. In January, Yeager Airport served as the port of entry for six international flights, which included both corporate aircraft and cargo carriers laden with auto parts.

On Wednesday, Yeager’s board of directors learned that one key way to increase international traffic is to have the airport’s general aviation terminal, Executive Air, become certified as an official processor of international garbage.

“We’re now listed as a port of entry, but we’re not listed as a port of entry that’s authorized to take international garbage,” said Executive Air’s Scott Miller. “That’s costing us business.”

International flights offering food service must dispose of galley refuse and opened snack packages containing plant or animal ingredients upon arriving at a U.S. port of entry. “International garbage is handled almost like it’s toxic waste,” Miller said. “It’s sealed in a special bag and then it goes into a locked container” before being disposed of in a government-approved incinerator. The process is overseen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Miller said at least one local waste management company is capable of disposing of international garbage to federal standards, and he plans to reach an agreement with a disposal firm within the next week or so. While contracting with a disposal company will add cost to his operation, Miller said he understood the rationale behind the regulation. “A disease carried on something like a fruit peel could wipe out a whole industry,” he said.

Without Executive Air being certified as an international garbage collection site, only aircraft that produce no galley waste can fly directly to Yeager from foreign points of departure, Miler said.

“We offer fast, easy-in, easy out service” compared to most airports in the region serving international traffic, Miller said. “We have a lot of potential for growth in that area.”

The Charleston Area Alliance is working with Executive Air and Yeager to improve air cargo operations and attract more cargo-related tenants to the airport. Assistant Director Nick Keller said that during the past two weeks, airport and Alliance officials have held conference calls with area manufacturers Toyota, NGK Sparkplug, Nippon Thermostat of America and Industrial Bolting Technologies to determine their air cargo needs.

The Charleston airport has about 20 acres available for use by air cargo or other tenants, Keller said.

In other developments, Finance Committee Chairman Trip Shumate, president of Charleston Newspapers, reported that despite a dip in revenue, Yeager’s net operating income from July 2016 through January 2017 increased $203,217 over the same period in the previous year, thanks to a $261,772 decrease in expenses.

Spirit Airlines will resume its seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 29, after reopening its reservation counter in Yeager’s passenger terminal on April 10.

A preliminary runway safety area study is underway to establish temporary new runway thresholds — the distances in runway length available for takeoffs and landings — following the virtually complete stabilization of the safety overrun area that collapsed in March 2015.

Reach Rick Steelhammer

at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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