It has been a year of more passengers, more revenue and infrastructural improvements for the Huntington Tri-State Airport.
Located less than 10 miles west of downtown Huntington, major renovations have been done in order to advance the terminal and the runway.
Airport Director Jerry Brienza said 2015 was a pretty productive year.
Several projects listed in the airport’s five-year capital improvement plan, submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, have either been completed or are in the works.
Part of the reason the airport is able to pursue so many of its capital improvement projects is because of the increase in revenue.
For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, revenue was $238,000 over expenses.
“We’ve made more money each year since I’ve been here,” Brienza said. “We haven’t had any layoffs here at the airport, and we are managing our personnel resources a lot better, which is a very positive.”
The airport finished 2015 with 102,833 passenger boardings, called enplanements.
July was the airport’s busiest month with more than 11,000 enplanements, while November and December produced the lowest number of enplanements hovering around 3,500. Even with the dip in numbers during these months, the airport had nearly 7,000 more enplanements in 2015 than in 2014.
Of the two airlines that the airport offers, Allegiant Air and American Airlines, Allegiant captures the majority of the customers.
Brienza said Allegiant is able to service more passengers because they are flying bigger jets while American is using the smaller aircraft.
About of 70 percent of enplanements were with Allegiant.
One way to encourage even more passenger traffic to add more routes, Brienza said. A little over a year ago Allegiant added a flight to Punta Gorda, Florida which has done well for the airport.
“The more fliers we get the more airlines we can encourage to come out here,” Brienza said. “We’ve been aggressively trying to get new routes. Every few years it seems like Allegiant is able to give us a few new routes.”
Capital improvement projects
Last year, Brienza said they were able to finish rehabilitating, or resurfacing, the taxiways as well as install new LED lights for the taxiways.
The terminal also received a bit of a face lift. Administration, airline and TSA offices were remodeled. Upgrades were made to the airports heating and cooling system, which also required an asbestos removal project
Upgrades were also made to the airports navigational system, improving communication with pilots.
These projects were paid for by a $1.43 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration as well as $150,000 from the state and $20,000 of airport funds.
Another project, which Brienza calls the pride and joy of the airport, is a business development area, called the Tri-State Aeroplex. About $2.5 million in infrastructure improvements were recently completed on the 100 acres parcel. Brienza said the airport can now begin the process of marketing the land to outside companies.
“It’s very valuable land, because in West Virginia 100 acres of flat land is rare,” he said. “What we anticipate is that it will be a place for someone to come in and put a big maintenance and repair facility and then other businesses would be able to spur off of that like an avionic shop, aircraft paint shop and also room for many private hangers for aircraft storage.”
Brienza also has ambitious airport improvement plan for 2016.
With the use of a nearly $1 million grant from the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission, a project that would add dual elevators, a covered stairway and walkway to the airport will soon be underway.
Brienza said this would be the first phase of their parking garage project.
As it stands now, there are two ways for patrons to bring their luggage from the parking lot into the terminal. The first option is for people to carry their luggage up two flights of steps and the second it to walk to the corner of the parking lot and walk up a ramp which Brienza said is not in the best condition.
“The elevator system would provide people with easy access into the terminal,” Brienza said. “When you are lugging around two or three pieces of luggage, plus a stroller, and you’ve got three kids on your ankles, this will really help.”
Not only will the dual elevators make it easier to get into the airport but the covered stairway will ensure that people are protected from inclement weather once they get inside the elevator/stairway system.
The funds from KYOVA for this project do not become available to the airport until July 1.
Also on tap for 2016 is a $3 million ramp rehabilitation project for the portion where aircraft park. The projects will be paid for with an FAA grant, state and airport funds.
The airport is also in the process of determining the feasibility of extending the airports access road through the use of $60,000 grant from KYOVA. The study would determine pros and cons as well as the cost of adding a secondary access road that would extend across the current access road back down to the highway. Right now there is only one way in and out of the airport.
Challenges facing airlines
But it hasn’t all been good. Brienza said that in the last decade the aviation industry has done a complete 180, instead of expanding like they should many have been consolidating.
“It’s hard for airports our size to attract new services when the airlines are in more of a contraction mode,” he said. “To be honest, one of the biggest problems facing the industry is the pilot shortage.”
According to a study done by Oliver Wyman’s Airline Economic Analysis, the demand for pilots in the U.S. will be about 31,000 greater that the expected supply over the next 20 years.
Legislation has also put a damper on the airport’s ability to expand. In February a bill was introduced that would put the responsibility of the nation’s air traffic control system in the hands of a nonprofit organization instead of the FAA.
The legislation was part of the FAA reauthorization bill. Although that portion of the bill was later sidelined, Brienza said taking control away from the FAA could be detrimental to aviation industry.
“The government does two things really well, and those are its military and air traffic control,” he said. “We have the best air traffic control system in the world, and when you have the best there is no need to modify it.”
He said the bill would essentially be putting a toll rode in the skies.
“This is why there is a pilot shortage,” Brienza said. “If pilots had to be charged for the highway system in the sky, for lack of a better word, that means they will have less money to purchase fuel, which is our number one revenue generator at the airport. It will have a negative impact on airports nationwide.”
Impact of the airport on the economy
Ten years ago the Marshall University Center of Business and Economic Research conducted a two part analysis economic impact study that calculated the impact on output, employment, and tax revenue as a result of the airport presence in the region.
The study found that local airports are a vital part of any community, because they connect residents with the rest of the country and the world. It also determined that access to air transportation is critical to economic development and business growth in the region.
At the time the study was done in 2006, the airport employed 803 people, had an income of $21.1 million, which pumped $50.4 million back into the region and resulted in $3.5 million in state and local tax revenue.
Since the time of the study, Brienza said the airport has grown tremendously and he now has plans to pursue and updated economic impact study.
“We just want to show the community how much the airport is worth to them,” he said.