Jan. 27--A late marketing push coupled with record low rates to Washington's Dulles International Airport boosted enplanements at the Morgantown Municipal Airport over the 10,000 mark for 2013, securing crucial federal funding.
The city's airport ended the year with 10,219 enplanements -- commercial passenger boardings.
This despite the fact that Assistant City Manager Glen Kelly warned in late November that numbers at the airport were "off significantly." He explained during a Nov. 19 city council meeting that the airport was 300-400 enplanements short at that time.
Kelly issued that statement about a month after former Airport Director Michael Clow resigned. Since then, Kelly, who held the airport director position before Clow, and Interim Airport Director Jackie Marhefka have been working to turn the numbers around.
"When [Clow] decided to leave, Jackie was painfully aware of where we were on enplanements," Kelly said, explaining that Marhefka's first order of business was to open a dialogue with executives from Silver Airways, Morgantown's commercial air service provider.
Kelly said conversations with WVU officials and others exposed some reliability issues that Silver Airways subsequently addressed through changes, such as the creation of a central maintenance hub.
The talks with Silver Airways also produced the special $38 one-way United Express flights to and from Dulles, which helped boost passenger numbers.
"That gave people the opportunity to park for free, fly out of Morgantown and hit Dulles," Kel- ly said. "From Dulles you have 879 destinations, so that's your plane change and you're off to your destination."
The 10,000-enplanement mark is crucial as it represents the threshold at which $1 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding is released to the airport. Anything less than 10,000 enplanements, and the amount drops to $150,000.
"It's absolutely critical to our plan to continue our maintenance and improvement of our airport," Kelly said of the FAA funding.
Kelly said the money factors into all plans, such as expansion of the airport's east side.
Kelly said he and Marhefka also plan to keep finding new ways to market the airport. He explained that a partnership with the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitor's Bureau aims to fly more Big 12 traffic directly into Morgantown for sporting events.
"Instead of all these people flying into Pittsburgh and paying for a hotel there, like so many of them do, we want to bring that business to Morgantown," Kelly said.
While the marketing campaign looks to add new clients to the airport's roster, Marhefka explained in a recent press release that it's the local business that keeps the airport going.
" ... the Greater Morgantown area and surrounding communities have proved to have a rock-solid, loyal passenger base that has supported Morgantown Municipal Airport. I put my faith in the people who have chosen to use this essential element of their community's infrastructure," Marhefka said.
Messages left for Marhefka were not returned in time for this report.
Copyright 2014 - The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
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