Service to Dallas should help commerce
Houston, we have no problem. The daily flight between the nation's oil capital and the capital of West Virginia will continue as long as United Airlines is happy.
But Yeager Airport last week added another direct flight - to Dallas - giving West Virginians a second way to get to the great state of Texas via American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines.
For officials at Yeager, it offsets the pain of losing American's direct flight to New York City, also this month. Adding Dallas also may help offset the loss of a flight to Orlando last fall following Southwest Airlines' acquisition of AirTran Airways.
Southwest's contract with employees bars it from operating at airports where ticketing and ground support are hired out to non-airline contractors. This led to the cancellation, which led to a drop in fees collected by Yeager Airport and forced it to make budget cuts.
Officials have done a good job on capital improvements at the hilltop facility over the past several years, but that's only part of the battle that must be waged to keep a strong array of flight options in place.
Those flights are needed not only to keep Yeager afloat, but also to bolster the regional economy. Many businesses depend on efficient air travel.
So Yeager staff members, often assisted by elected officials, must devote considerable time and effort to wooing airlines.
In landing the direct flight to Houston, for example, Yeager spokesman Brian Belcher said local officials spent years persuading first Continental and then United that the flight was viable.
"It took us seven years to get that service," he told Megan Workman of the Sunday Gazette-Mail, "and it's now been 12 years and it's been profitable for them."
About 90 percent of Yeager's flights result from such pursuit of the airlines, Belcher said.
"We have a lot to offer here in West Virginia with whitewater rafting, skiing, all things outdoor to do," he said. "I think when the Dallas community discovers our state, they'll love and want to fly to it."
Those who live and work here realize that Yeager's location just minutes from the state Capitol is a great asset. Charleston remains the geographical, financial and cultural center of the region, which stretches as far south as Beckley and as far west as Huntington.
However, with cities across the country competing for flights, the challenge is to convey that message to others. Yeager must keep up the fight.