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Yeager Airport is positioning itself to become West Virginia’s hub for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air service and infrastructure development, through new partnerships with The Thrasher Group, Marshall University and others.

On Wednesday, Yeager’s governing board voted to enter an agreement with The Thrasher Group, through which the engineering firm will serve as primary consultant in preparing the Charleston airport to become the hub of a statewide network of eVTOL air taxis with airline connections at Yeager.

During the airport board’s September meeting, Director Nick Keller first floated the concept of using the battery powered, emission-free aircraft to provide West Virginia with its first viable intrastate air travel system.

On Oct. 6, Keller, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, and Yeager board member James Dodrill visited BETA Technologies in South Burlington, Vermont, one of nearly a dozen U.S. eVTOL companies that have developed airworthy prototypes.

The Alia, BETA Technologies’ prototype electric aircraft, “weighs 6,000 pounds, has a 250-mile range, recharges in 50 minutes and carries five passengers,” Dodrill, a retired Air Force and Air National Guard officer, told board members. “Intrastate travel possibilities with an aircraft like this are phenomenal.”

Keller predicted that the battery-powered aircraft would be transporting passengers and freight by 2024 or 2025.

“Organizations like Amazon, UPS, and the Air Force have placed orders for them,” he said. “They’re on the way. Let’s set up eVTOL sites across the state and make Charleston West Virginia’s eVTOL center of excellence.”

The contract with Thrasher will allow the airport to build on work performed during the past six weeks in partnership with the engineering firm, Marshall University and the Robert C. Byrd Institute. That work included exploring the concept of opening the world’s first aerospace battery research center in the Charleston area, and initial discussions with a natural gas producer on prospects for converting natural gas to a hydrogen-based aviation fuel.

The contract calls for Thrasher and a subconsultant, Maryland-based Airport Design Consultants Inc., to design eVTOL charging stations, landing pads, flight simulators and related infrastructure for use at Yeager and other West Virginia sites.

Other work includes designing an aerospace economic development center in a 10,000-square-foot hangar at Yeager for electric and other aircraft, along with a new terminal building for General Aviation aircraft, an “innovation center,” and and an aerospace business incubator.

In other developments on Wednesday, Brian Abraham, Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff, attended his first meeting as a Yeager Airport board member.

Rick Steelhammer is a features reporter. He can be reached at 304-348-5169 or rsteelhammer@hdmediallc.com. Follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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