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The second-best airport in the entire nation

YEAGER Airport may be no O'Hare - indeed the Chicago airport has 100 times as many passengers each year - but Yeager is among the most well-connected airports in the land.

An MIT report ranked Yeager 11th among the nation's 462 commercial service airports in connectivity. Obviously, hub airports like O'Hare take all the top spots, but among non-hub airports, Yeager was second only to Asheville, N.C.'s airport.

The report measured connectivity, which includes flight frequency, and also the quality and quantity of both destinations and connective destinations. In short, you can get there from here without changing flights more than once.

That's because over the last 14 years, with Rick Atkinson as the airport's director, Yeager officials have aggressively recruited airlines for direct flights to hub airports. There are nine hub airports in the United States; Yeager is connected to eight of them.

Brian Belcher, director of marketing and air service development, understandably was delighted with the report.

"People have a misconception that we are a small airport. And we are nationally," Belcher told Andrea Lannom of the Daily Mail. "But we have great connectivity. We have good air service for an airport this size."

The benefits are multiple. It means officials at the state Capitol are a few minutes away from boarding a plane and heading off anywhere. The success of Yeager also means that state taxpayers are not on the hook for $160 million to $200 million for the local share of constructing a transpark in Lincoln County.

That's based on an estimated cost of $328 million in 2002 to build the proposed airport. That estimate had sharply grown by 27 percent in just two years. The Federal Aviation Administration's share came to $120 million to $160 million, meaning state and others would have to borrow $160 million to $200 million.

To be sure, taxpayers spent millions on improving Yeager but a $2 million canopy to protect passengers from the elements is a far cry from starting over from scratch.

Charleston residents knew they had a pretty good airport. Rather than spending $328 million on construction, Yeager officials worked improving service by acquiring access to eight hub airports.

Now about that ninth one . . .


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