Officiating at his first board meeting as Yeager Airport director since replacing Terry Sayre, who retired last month, Nick Keller on Wednesday outlined some of the goals he plans to achieve with board support in the months and years to come.
n Pursuing a long-term goal of extending Yeager Airport’s runway to 8,000 feet, with 1,000-foot safety zones on each end.
n Restoring nonstop air service between Charleston and Houston, Dallas and New York, and adding nonstop service to the Orlando area by a low-cost carrier.
n Increasing passenger boardings to 225,000 per year within the next three years.
n Adding new jet bridges, restrooms, flight information displays and a public address system to Yeager’s passenger terminal.
n Building a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection building to ensure continued operation of West Virginia’s only official international port of entry.
The newly rebuilt EMAS-equipped safety zone at the Charleston end of Yeager’s runway will serve the airport until plans are approved and funding secured for extending the runway and additional safety zone space into neighboring Coonskin Park. But Keller said the airport’s master plan identifies an 8,000-foot runway with standard Federal Aviation Administration-recommended 1,000-foot safety zones on each end as a long term goal.
A borrow area for the massive fill project that would be required to build the runway extension could be lowered to runway grade to accommodate a new taxiway and parking apron at the Coonskin Park end of the development. There, new off-runway businesses or a new terminal could be developed, Keller said.
The airport’s marketing staff will use a variety of strategies to pursue the return of nonstop service to New York and the Texas cities of Houston and Dallas — the top destinations sought by Kanawha Valley business travelers. To better serve vacation travelers, Yeager will also be seeking nonstop service to Orlando or a nearby Central Florida city.
“The airport is always listening to the needs of our passengers,” Keller said. Adding the four sought-after flights to Yeager’s schedule, he said, would go a long way toward helping the airport achieve its goal of 225,000 annual passenger boardings within three years.
Yeager boarded a record 317,000 passengers in 2005, when the low-cost carrier Independence Air offered six daily flights to its Washington-Dulles International Airport hub. The Charleston airport recorded 215,752 passenger boardings last year and 202,581 in 2017. So far this year, boardings are up 4.4 percent from the same period last year, and up 10.1 percent from 2017. September boardings were up 11.7 percent over the same month last year.
A total of $5 million in passenger terminal improvements scheduled to get underway in coming months will include re-doing and adding restrooms, replacing HVAC gear, and installing new jet bridges, a new public address system and new flight information display screens.
In addition to the addition of new passenger amenities, the terminal building, Keller said, “should be well-maintained with an aesthetically pleasing appearance to help “create a positive customer experience.” Yeager Airport, he added, gives thousands of people a year “their first and last impressions of West Virginia.”
The new U.S. Customs and Border Protection building should be complete by next summer, Keller said, thanks to a $2 million grant from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council.
The building, to be located adjacent to the airport’s general aviation terminal, operated by Capital Jet Service, is expected to increase the number of refueling stops made at Yeager by private aircraft returning from international locations. It should also expedite the import and export of parts and goods for area manufacturers.
Keller said Yeager’s partnership with Marshall University’s school of aviation, which he played a pivotal role in developing, could move beyond pilot training to include career-oriented courses in aviation maintenance, air traffic control, air freight management and homeland security topics.
“We can give our children hope and retrain displaced coal miners and others to enter careers in the aviation industry,” he said.
The Charleston airport’s promotion of Yeager as a refueling site and staging area for military training exercises boosted Capital Jet Center’s military fuel sales by more than 70 percent during the past year. Keller said he has set a goal of 40,000 annual military takeoffs and landings taking place at the Charleston airport within the next five years.
Keller said he would like to see the airport working with Kanawha County Parks and Recreation to develop recreational amenities at Coonskin Park following any earthmoving activity taking place to accommodate the planned runway extension.
A tract of flat created by using fill from the park could be used to accommodate a multi-sport athletic complex similar to the one developed at Shawnee Park, he said. While the construction would eliminate a number of picnic shelters and trails, it would not affect the most heavily used areas of Coonskin, including its swimming pool, lodge, soccer stadium, golf course, driving range, tennis courts and pond, Keller said.