In addition to serving as transportation centers, the state’s 24 publicly owned airports also serve as business hubs that generate $1.6 billion in revenue annually while supporting nearly 11,000 jobs.
Those are among the findings of a new aviation economic impact study highlighted by Sean Hill, director of the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission, during a meeting of Yeager Airport’s governing board on Wednesday.
Hill praised the Charleston airport for “identifying innovative ways of diversifying revenue generation,” including the promotion of Yeager as a staging base for military training operations on a network of nearby inactive surface mines. Last year, 61 units from all service branches used Yeager as a staging base for multi-day training.
The study, commissioned by Hill’s agency, used data from 2019, so downturns in flight and business activity due to COVID-19 were not reflected.
In addition to being the airport handling the most commercial airline traffic in the state, Yeager creates the most jobs — 2,940 — according to the study.
Job totals listed in the study include all people employed by firms operating on airport property. In Yeager’s case, that includes National Guard and TSA personnel, and the employees of rental car companies, airlines, air freight carriers, airport vendors, engineering firms and government agencies, as well as those working directly for the airport.
The study also credits Yeager and the businesses operating there or relying on its air service with generating $225 million annually in business revenue.
While Yeager created more jobs and handled more passengers than any other airport in the state, Clarksburg-Bridgeport’s North Central West Virginia Regional Airport provided the largest payroll — $168 million compared to Yeager’s $106 million.
Thanks in large part to the airport’s Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, the Clarksburg-Bridgeport airport also generates more business revenue than any other airport in the state — $775.5 million annually, according to the study.
Among the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex’s 10 tenants are Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing affiliate that manufactures unmanned aircraft and composite components for military aircraft; Lockheed-Martin, which produces cargo ramps and wing components for C-130 Hercules aircraft; and a maintenance and repair facility for Canadair regional jets.
A new, 100-acre business park with access to Clarksburg-Bridgeport’s 7,800-foot runway — the longest commercial service runway in the state — recently cleared its final regulatory hurdle and is expected to move on to a design-build phase. When completed and occupied, the new aerotech park should double both the airport’s business revenue and employee numbers, according to airport officials.
Ranked just below the Charleston and Clarksburg airports in business revenue were the airports serving Parkersburg and Martinsburg, both of which generated $153 million annually, according to the study.