Having a strong general aviation airport is critical to future growth not only in Mercer County, but across our region. In fact, prospective industries and companies looking at the area for a possible expansion or relocation certainly demand a robust general aviation facility.
When commercial air service was lost at the Mercer County Airport back in 2007, the end result was a crippling blow to local economic development and tourism efforts across the region. But recent and ongoing efforts to rebuild and reinvigorate the Mercer County Airport have certainly helped and are welcomed. This includes the recent addition of Appalachian Flying Service to the airport. The new business offers both training for prospective pilots as well as aircraft for rent.
The service offers a variety of courses from a private pilot license to airline transport pilot licenses. In addition to modern ground training for prospective pilots, Appalachian has three types of fixed-wing aircraft including a Cessna with fixed landing gear, a Cessna with retractable landing gear and a two-engine Beechcraft to prepare pilots for all ratings. The company offers more than 70 years of combined flight experience, encompassing training, sales, management and aircraft relocation services. Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, owner of the service, resurrected an older flying school that went by the same name.
All prospective pilots must undergo a Transportation Security Administration screening, but a young person could possibly complete their training by the time they reach their 17th birthday.
Appalachian Flight Service officially opened last week, and officials provided a tour of the company’s facilities located in a hangar that the service rents from the Mercer County Airport Authority. The two pilot trainers showed visitors the facility’s offices, a board room for meeting with visitors and a classroom with high-tech visual aids. All of these new additions help to further enhance the airport as a whole.
“We want to be a place where people can come here and have fun,” Charlie Belcher, chief pilot of Appalachian Flying Service, said during last week’s tour. “We want to draw a crowd to the airport. It’s possible for them to go to Beckley or Lewisburg for this training, but we’re saying, why go there?”
We agree. The new company offers prospective pilots an opportunity to learn how to fly in a more scenic and relaxed setting. And every plane at the facility also is available for rent. The new service is not just for training.
Appalachian Flight Service is a great addition to the Mercer County Airport. It is our hope that many prospective pilots across the region will take advantage of this welcomed new service.