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Loss of flight could mean layoffs at Yeager

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The board that runs Yeager Airport is planning budget cuts, including possible layoffs, because of the passenger decline that resulted from the loss of an Orlando flight.  

Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority members discussed their budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 during a meeting Wednesday.

They agreed to maintain landing fees to keep the airport competitive and cut $675,000 from the budget, bringing it to about  $5.3 million.

Losing the Orlando flight caused the number of passengers using Yeager Airport to drop by about 20,000 from last year to this year. The flight was cut after Southwest Airlines bought AirTran Airways.

The authority could save about $300,000 by laying off two to four employees and leaving three positions unfilled, airport director Rick Atkinson said.

The number of layoffs would depend on whether the airport could receive leniency from federal authorities on some future technology purchases.

Atkinson said employees will be asked to pay higher health insurance premiums, and that could produce savings of another $26,000. Forgoing 3 percent merit raises will save another $75,000. 

The amount of money placed in the authority's reserve fund will be reduced from $400,000 to $300,000, and $150,000 will be cut from airport marketing, Atkinson said.

If the authority were not to cut its budget, it would have to raise the landing fees it charges airlines from $3.55 to $4.74 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft.  

Board members decided against that.

The $3.55 rate will keep the airport competitive, authority chairman Ed Hill said.

"We would be doing our airport and our customers a great disservice by raising our landing fees," Hill said.

That could cause airlines to eliminate more flights, further reducing revenue.

"That would make us less competitive and less attractive to airlines," he said. "It's important for the board to consider all other avenues to accommodate our shortfall.

"We recognize how vital it is for the airport to stay competitive and active. We have to maintain profitability."

The board will cut expenses wherever it can, Hill said.

It also decided Wednesday not to purchase a $30,000 truck.

Despite the budget struggles, the board is moving forward with a proposal to help fund a $7 million to $9 million bridge over the Elk River from U.S. 119 near Mink Shoals to Coonskin Park.

The bridge must be built to keep the West Virginia Air National Guard base at Yeager Airport open, said retired Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, an airport authority board member.

There needs to be a secure entrance to the armory and air base, Tackett has said previously. Coonskin Park's only entrance currently is just past the Guard facilities. 

While the airport authority board could never use its general fund to pay for the bridge construction because of Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, it could use other funds, such as those generated by parking garage revenue, Atkinson said.

Tackett hopes the bridge construction can be financed jointly by the airport authority, the National Guard, the Kanawha County Commission and the City of Charleston.

The authority board will take a final vote on its budget June 27. 

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.

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