W. Va. Airport Execs Courting More Airline Service

Air travelers could eventually see expanded service in Charleston as a result of future meetings Yeager executives have planned with officials from 12 airlines.

Airport Director Rick Atkinson and Director of Air Service Development Brian Belcher are traveling to Orlando next week to talk with route planners about adding flights to existing cities, increasing the size of current planes and bringing new airlines to Charleston.

The Orlando aviation conference comes at a crucial time for Yeager. Last month, Independence Air's parent company, FLYi Inc., filed for reorganization bankruptcy. It's unknown how long, or if, the airline will continue to exist.

A route planner has told Belcher the airline would be interested in coming to Charleston between mid-2007 to early 2008.

"It's our job to convince them they need to be here in 2006," Belcher said.

Up to this point, JetBlue pilots have flown larger planes to the airline's 33 East and West Coast and Caribbean destinations. Plus, one of the airline's hubs is John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, a city Atkinson and Belcher have been trying to land a direct flight to for a while.

The duo is hoping other airlines take note of Independence Air's success in Charleston. The number of people who flew out of Yeager since Independence came in July 2004 has increased by 25 percent, Atkinson said.

"Our numbers prove a low-cost carrier can stimulate this market," Belcher said.

If Independence went out of business, Yeager would lose 90,000 seats a year in capacity, Atkinson told members of the airport's governing board at its monthly meeting Wednesday. Flight prices could increase, and even double, if Independence goes under and isn't replaced.

A bankruptcy judge will decide the struggling airline's fate at a hearing on Dec. 16. Earlier this week, Atkinson and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper told Charleston-area business leaders that Independence would probably be liquidated or auctioned to the highest bidder at the hearing.

Meanwhile, board members also received an update on airport construction projects. The $ 90,000 terminal-expansion project is now under roof and should be completed by mid-January. Delta will use one of the four new gates. The airline operates flights to Atlanta and Cincinnati that leave close to the same time each day out of the same gate. The three other gates will be available for future airline growth.

Board members also voted to let Chairman Ed Hill sign a $ 32,000 contract with West Virginia University's Department of Forestry to create a plan to replant the area disturbed by the ongoing runway safety-area extension project.


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