Yeager Airport’s plans to accommodate future aviation needs now include developing shorter, as well as longer, takeoff and landing zones.
The Charleston airport is moving forward with plans to extend its existing runway to 7,000 feet, with 1,000-foot overrun areas added at each end, to better accommodate future airline, military and cargo flights. But Yeager officials also are considering a development in the 50-foot by 50-foot range to begin serving a new generation of flying machines — electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs.
The battery-powered, emission-free aircraft generally used tilt-rotor technology to accommodate takeoffs, then transition to horizontal flight.
More than a dozen companies are involved in the development of the electric aircraft, with some already test-flying prototypes. Several airlines, including United, have placed orders for the electric aircraft for use as air taxis serving major urban airports.
Yeager Director and CEO Nick Keller told members of the airport’s governing board Wednesday that electric aircraft that carry five passengers and a pilot can operate at a cost of about $500 per hour, making them less expensive than helicopter rentals or charter flights.
BETA Technologies of Burlington, Vermont, has designed a five-passenger electric aircraft with a range of 250 miles that is approaching the production stage. A four-passenger prototype produced by California-based Joby Aero, now undergoing test flight trials, has a range of 150 miles and can fly at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
Keller said electric aircraft are expected to be certified for commercial use in two or three years. Installing the state’s first electric aircraft recharging pad at Yeager, then encouraging the development of similar pads at six or more cities across West Virginia “would make intrastate air travel possible for the first time,” Keller said, with Yeager Airport serving as a hub.
Keller said that, during the coming year, he would seek the board’s approval to:
- Develop a marketing plan designed to interest international general aviation travelers and air cargo shippers in using the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility at Yeager as a port of entry. Construction of the Customs building is expected to be completed by the end of November.
- Keep the airport’s operations department and emergency response center open on a round-the-clock basis.
- Work with Marshall University and the Robert C. Byrd Institute to be designated a Build Back Better Regional Cluster by the U.S. Economic Development Administration for potential grant funding to become a hub for aerospace technology and manufacturing.
- Work with Marshall to develop an aviation management curriculum, encourage the state Department of Education and Kanawha County Schools to make more high school aerospace courses available.
Keller’s vision for the airport got a vote of confidence Wednesday in the form of a 10% pay raise, which boosted his salary to $200,000 annually. Board Chairman Ed Hill said the hike falls within the range of salaries received by managers of similar-size airports with comparable budgets.
“Nick sees Yeager as much more than an airport,” Hill told board members before the vote. “He sees it as something that is central to the economic development of the state.”