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Yeager Airport to host National Guard unit exercises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Yeager Airport will host a larger-scale military exercise next month in conjunction with the West Virginia Air National Guard unit stationed at the airport.

The exercise will mean area residents will likely see military planes flying about the region that are not typical for the area.

Col. John Ryan, vice wing coordinator with the Air National Guard, told the Yeager Airport Board at its meeting yesterday that the 10-day event on July 15-24 will include five Air National Guard Units conducting exercises across the southern part of West Virginia.

Ryan said that the training is important because the region's topography mimics the terrain in Afghanistan, therefore giving service members a glimpse at what they could face overseas.

Visiting guard units include divisions from Baltimore and bases in North Carolina. Elements of the training will be held at Yeager Airport, former mountaintop removal coal mine sites in Mingo and Logan counties and at Beckley.

One of the main goals is low-level navigation, or the operation of aircraft at less than 300 feet. There are rules the military follows that reduce possible impact on neighbors, he said.

Yeager board member Allen Tackett, who is also the retired adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said getting the training to Charleston was the product of several years of planning and coordination.

 He said that the training will likely become a regular event, as the local terrain is one of the more unique areas on the East Coast.

"There's going to be a lot of extra activity for years and years to come," Tackett said.

Among the participating units, 14-15 extra aircraft will be present in the area, Ryan said. Aircraft models include the Lockheed C-5, Lockheed C-130 and the Fairchild Republic A-10.

Board members also discussed American Airlines' new service from Charleston to Dallas/Fort Worth, and the future of American and U.S. Airways at Yeager Airport in light of those airlines' possible merger.

Board member Priscilla Haden said that the new flight is proving to be popular, and has been frequently full.

"This is a really good thing for Yeager to have," Haden said, in light of WVU's involvement in the Big XII Conference and the National Boy Scout Jamboree.

American and U.S. Airways together fly to three destinations from Yeager, and are seeking federal regulatory approval for the merger. Part of the issue is that at Washington-Reagan National Airport, which U.S. Airways currently serves from Charleston, such a merger would result in the proposed airline having a 50 percent market share.

Reagan National is an airport that only has a limited amount of slots for flights each day, and the federal government could force a merged American Airlines to allocate some of its slots to other airlines, thereby putting the Charleston flight in jeopardy.

Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson provided written testimony to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Joe Manchin penned a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Baer in support of the current arrangement at Reagan National.

The regulatory process is ongoing.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.

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