Closing 130th Would Cripple Charleston Airport

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Passengers using Kanawha County's Yeager Airport could pay higher ticket prices and have fewer travel choices if West Virginia's Air National Guard is forced to give up eight cargo planes stationed at the airport, says a report prepared by Marshall University.

The Department of Defense's plan to ship the 130th Airlift Wing's aircraft to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina would also result in the loss of 814 jobs and $22 million in annual payroll. Since the Charleston-area economy is not growing, it would be difficult for the area to absorb the layoffs, said the 21-page report by Marshall's Center for Business and Economic Research.

The finding challenges early studies by the DoD, General Accounting Office and U.S. Census Bureau that suggested base closings and realignments did not have a long-term negative impact on local communities. According to the Marshall report, those studies did not look at joint-use airports located in rural, lightly populated areas.

The report, conducted for Yeager Airport officials, represents a worst-case scenario, said Christine Risch, the center's director of research.

Information contained in the report was expected to be used Tuesday when West Virginia officials appeared before a hearing on the DoD's proposal conducted by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in Charlotte, N.C., the State Journal reported. The commission has until Sept. 8 to send its recommendations to President Bush. The president has until Sept. 23 to submit his recommendations to Congress.

The 130th Airlift Wing shares the mountaintop airfield with Yeager Airport. The unit provides fire protection and other services to the commercial airport. It would cost the airport more than $7 million the first year and $1.7 million annually after that to replace those services, the report said.

The Pentagon ''never really looked at the impact realignment would have on a joint-use facility,'' airport director Rick Atkinson told the newspaper. ''Right now, there is a benefit that goes to both the military and the airport.''

The report noted that operations at Yeager's control tower could be curtailed if the cargo planes are transferred. The tower could close from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The Federal Aviation Administration also has proposed closing the tower between midnight and 5 a.m. to save money as part of its fiscal 2006 budget request.

About 26 percent of Yeager's commercial passengers fly into or out of the airport between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., the report said. If tower operations are curtailed, some flights could be canceled.

''The tower would have the biggest potential impact,'' Risch said.

Fewer flights could result in increased landing fees charged to airlines using the airport. Fees are charged per 1,000 pounds of aircraft weight.

''A typical regional jet weighs 48,500 pounds,'' the report said. ''The landing fee for that aircraft would increase from $58.20 and $233.61, more than quadrupling the expense to the air carrier. Adding the fire service startup costs could increase fees by as much as $4.88 per thousand pounds, to $295 for a typical aircraft, a fivefold increase in landing fees.''

Atkinson said those increases could hurt attempts to attract new air carriers to Yeager.

''We are close to having one of the lowest landing fees (among peer airports),'' he said. ''After this, we would be one of the highest.''