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American Airlines Agent Betty Tyler celebrates her ride attempt on a mechanical bull set up in the Yeager Airport lobby Thursday for the 15th anniversary of airline service to Houston and the announcement of all jet plane service to Washington D.C.

Yeager Airport on Thursday celebrated 15 years of nonstop flights to Houston by offering mechanical bull rides, raffling off airline tickets to the Texas city, and announcing the move to an all-jet fleet of aircraft serving airport passengers on all 18 daily flights starting in January.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper told those attending the observance that Yeager’s Houston service began after county and airport officials met with former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the year before the flight was launched. The delegation told Rockefeller that a direct link to the Texas city would benefit West Virginia business travelers in the chemical and energy industries, and was likely to provide enough passengers to be profitable.

“The flight was made possible due to a $500,000 U.S. Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service grant awarded through a program established by Senator Rockefeller,” Carper said. “The Houston flight was the first new air service to be created through the new grant program.”

Officials with the state Port Authority, which had recently been involved in a dispute with Kanawha County and Yeager officials over the development of a regional airport, predicted that the Houston air service would end “the day after the grant ended,” Carper said. “But the flight continued with no subsidy and has generated total net airline revenue of more than $102 million on this route since 2002.”

The 975-mile flight to Houston from Charleston is the longest of Yeager’s 18 daily departures.

Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango announced that starting in January, 37-seat Dash-8 turboprop aircraft now used on some of United’s four daily flights from Yeager to Washington’s Dulles International Airport will be replaced by 50-seat regional jets.

“That will give us all jets on all of our routes,” Salango said, and add 8,000 available seats annually to Dulles.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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