FAA rep addresses Barbour airport issues

PHILIPPI – A Federal Aviation Administration representative from Beckley attended Monday’s Barbour County Commission meeting to answer questions from local officials as the Philippi/Barbour County Regional Airport experiences a transition in management.

Matthew DiGiulian, the manager of the Beckley Airports Field Office, was invited to the meeting by the commission following the resignation of six of the Philippi/Barbour County Airport Authority members, including the president, Dean Springer.

Prior to the meeting, DiGiulian said he could not issue a statement to the press and would not release his name because he was not authorized to do so. However, DiGiulian was introduced by name and he spoke publicly at the meeting.

“My purpose for coming up here today was primarily to just help with the transition of management with Dean Springer stepping down as president,” DiGiulian said. “There are going to have to be some assignments that the county/Authority and the city of Philippi are going to have to take over.”

DiGiulian explained some of the major agreements that were made when the Airport Authority received federal funding for recent projects.

“Part of what I’m here to do is just educate you guys on what your responsibilities are,” DiGiulian said. Every signed agreement through which the Airport Authority obtained federal funding had certain terms attached to it, he said.

Barbour County Administrator Chuck Foley asked if the sponsors of the agreement given to the Commission were the city of Philippi and the Airport Authority.

“It really doesn’t require the signature of the County Commission,” DiGiulian said. “I haven’t read the charter for the Airport Authority, so I assume there’s a county commissioner who sits on the Airport Authority. There would be an elected president of the Airport Authority that would sign that on behalf of the Airport Authority, not the county official.

“But I appreciate that you guys have taken an interest,” he added. “I think that’s great. The more people who are interested in what’s going on up at the airport the better. Hey, there’s a lot to learn.”

DiGiulian addressed parts of the agreement, including one fund-generating idea suggested by Commissioner Jedd Schola that has been challenged by Springer and was later questioned by Philippi City Council.

In recent months, Schola announced an idea that he said he believed would help generate funds for the Airport Authority: hosting a drag race on the airport property, which would require closing the runway.

“Sometimes an Authority or an airport sponsor can violate one of these assurances (terms) without realizing it,” DiGiulian said.

Federal funding regulations prevent the closure of an airport runway for non-aeronautical purposes unless otherwise approved by the FAA for 20 years after the last date that airport received federal funding.

“Anytime you want to do something on the airport that would require you to close the runway you need our permission to do so,” DiGiulian said, “and there has to be a really good reason to close the runway. I know it’s been discussed about hosting a non-aeronautical event like drag racing or a car show or anything you would want to do like that.

“We participate in the airport for it to be open as an airport. Stuff like that is generally not allowed. If you had a big field off to the side that was not needed, you might be able to host a non-aeronautical event there because it doesn’t impact keeping the runway open, keeping it available.”

DiGiulian said that anytime the Airport Authority wants to host an event that involves or supports flying airplanes, they may call him and he will help them through the process of applying for that event.

In related business, commissioners reappointed Lemuel Jones to the Airport Authority to begin a new term after the expiration of a term he has been serving. Current Airport Authority members include Schola, Jeff Allen, Karen Weaver, Lemuel Jones and John Prusha.

Schola announced that the Airport Authority bylaws have now reduced the available board appointments from 12 members to seven members. Three members each will be appointed by the county and the city, respectively. The other appointment will be made at large, Schola said. Philippi City Council has already appointed three members. The commission now has two members on the board.

After four Airport Authority members tendered resignations on Oct. 17, members Eric Cutright and Eric Lawrence also resigned last month, Schola said.

The other members who resigned are the former secretary/treasurer Alice McDonald, 20-year member Craig Bolton and eight-year member Mike Johnson.

Schola said that member Lemuel Jones is now serving as the interim president of the authority, following Springer’s official resignation on Dec. 31.

Contact Melissa Toothman by email at mtoothman@theintermountain.com.