Enplanement numbers at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport have taken a nosedive over the last two years, but local officials say the airport remains an important factor in economic development in the area.
“I think it’s an essential part of our community,” said Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay, who represents the county commission on the Wood County Airport Authority.
In 2013, 8,126 enplanements – people boarding an aircraft – at the local airport were recorded, “and our demand was going up,” airport Manager Jeff McDougle said. The next year, the number dropped to 5,322 before sliding to 4,424 in 2015.
In the fall of 2014, Silver Airways shifted its flights from the local airport from Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport. Multiple cancellations and delays followed over the last two years are what airport officials blame for the decline in enplanements.
Silver did not apply to continue flying to and from the airport under federally subsidized Essential Air Service. The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority, the airport’s marketing arm, voted in June to recommend Via Air as the new provider. If given the anticipated approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Via will begin flights to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina on Oct. 1.
McDougle anticipates enplanements increasing when Via takes over.
“I think it’ll be dramatic when Via gets in here,” he said. “Serving Charlotte and what the people will be able to do beyond Charlotte, it’ll really bring people back.”
Via’s reliability over the last nearly two years at Beckley’s Raleigh County Memorial Airport gave authority members confidence in selecting them, as did the company’s plans to offer additional service from here to Charlotte to Orlando, St. Augustine, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“I bet we have 1,000 people or more go to Myrtle Beach every summer, and wouldn’t they rather fly than (go on) a 10-hour drive?” Tebay said.
The switch is intriguing to Wood County resident Jim Deem, who said he’s flown out of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport a dozen times over the last 30 years. As the number of connections to Pittsburgh International Airport, a previous destination from the local airport, declined and he found himself dissatisfied with the Cleveland and Washington, D.C., airports, he went elsewhere.
“It used to be convenient, back when you could fly from here to Pittsburgh,” Deem said. “Now when I fly, I usually drive to Columbus.”
Responding to a question about the airport on the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Facebook page this week, Marietta resident Richard Morris said, “It costs far (too) much to fly out or into that airport.”
There is an added cost to fly from the local airport to a larger one then to a destination, rather than flying directly from a larger airport to that same destination. But some passengers believe the convenience of flying from closer to home offsets that.
Parkersburg resident Thomas Campbell said he’s used the local airport a couple of times, for school and leisure. He finds it useful and believes people who travel for work do as well.
“Instead of going to Columbus or Charleston, which is two hours away either way … I think it’s essential,” he said. “To me, driving to a different airport’s just an inconvenience, especially if we have one here.”
Little Hocking resident Nichole Glunt said she has flown out of the Pittsburgh airport before, but not the local one.
“I don’t really fly much,” she said.
Told about the proposed Via services, Glunt said that could give her family reason to try the Mid-Ohio Valley airport.
In addition to individual travelers, Tebay and McDougle said the airport is important to businesses, both current and potential future employers.
“If we’re lucky to land another business … such as DuPont or Public Debt, or if Public Debt would increase their force … whoever that employer would be would certainly need an airport for their people,” Tebay said.
McDougle said Hino Motors took the airport into account as it was deciding whether to do business in Wood County.
“Any business does, to be quite honest,” he said.
Lindsey Kerr, economic development specialist for the Area Roundtable, said area businesses utilize the airport frequently, either for corporate jets or travel on commercial flights. She said there are a number of businesses with ties to both West Virginia and North Carolina, so she thinks the Charlotte connection will be useful.
“Then from Charlotte you can get … to a lot of different places across the country,” she said.
A company with multiple locations around the country would likely find the airport appealing as it looked at this area, Kerr said.