An all-new, well nearly all-new, group of businessmen has been assigned to the Elkins-Randolph County Airport Authority. With the exception of member at large, Chuck Stivers, and president Joe Biola, all are new to the authority.
Following a recent mass resignation, reigning members appointed Stivers, the Randolph County Commission appointed Nils Heinke and Charles Jordan and Elkins City Council appointed Jack Pappas. Biola was appointed by City Council earlier. Dick Chaney remains the airport manager.
A feeling is beginning to emerge in the community that an invigorated and enthusiastic group is now intent on promoting the airport through community awareness programs and advertising. This will allow the airport to once again become the vital part of the community infrastructure that it once was. According to Chaney, "It is going to take time for this to happen - it can't happen overnight. I hope the community will give the new members of the authority time to gain an understanding of airport operations and the many complex Federal Aviation Administration programs that are involved in ensuring that it meets and continues to meet safety criteria.
"The new board is already involved in constructing a new five- and 10-year strategic plan," Chaney said. "That plan outlines the goals of where it would like to be at those baselines of time and the avenues of reaching them."
One of the projects mentioned by Chaney includes the extension of Runway 14-32.
"Property has already been purchased and the design phase for the extension is underway," he said. "We will be adding 800 feet of surfaced runway and a 300-foot overrun safety area. We are also investigating the possibility of getting the instrument approaches changed in a way that will permit aircraft to descend to a lower altitude when landing in instrument meteorological conditions. A study is underway to reassess the obstacles surrounding the airport, both manmade and topographic. The results of these studies will be stored in digital format for future reference and use; they will also be used to determine if the approach minimums can be lowered and if the installation of a Global Positioning System (GPS) system is feasible and can be established for Runway 14-32. GPS approaches are already in use for Runway 5-23, the primary instrument runway."
Chaney said that he understands that the airport does not enjoy a favorable reputation in the community.
"I believe the new members see the urgency to change that. Too many people feel that it serves only the few that own airplanes and that the facility is primarily for those that 'have money.' We must help them understand that were it not for the airport, several businesses in the area would have been located elsewhere. In addition to the many privately owned pleasure aircraft based at the airport and those that arrive and depart daily, the airport is visited by many corporate aircraft owned or operated by companies such as Wal-Mart, Armstrong, Kingsford Charcoal, Hampton Inn and several others. Sometimes it's hard to see the contributions an airport makes to the community and the importance of its role in the overall infrastructure, but if we didn't have these, and others, businesses in our community that located here because of the convenience the airport provides to their traveling corporate officers, a lot of people would not have jobs here - they would be working somewhere else."
Chaney said that the newly appointed members are looking for ways of getting the airport more involved in tourism.
"We are located at the western gateway to the Allegheny Mountain Chain, which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. We are centrally located between two major east coast ski resorts, each within an hour drive or less. I believe we can become an aviation hub not only for the winter ski industry of our region, but for the tourism industry of the summer and autumn months as well.
Chaney said the airport recently received a reimbursement grant from the West Virginia Aeronautic Commission for the improvement of the airport terminal building.
"The money will be used to install new, more energy efficient doors and other improvements. This will help reduce the heating costs and is the beginning of going green here at the airport."
The city's newly appointed representative Jack Pappas said, "We will take our fiduciary responsibility very seriously and use the airport as an economic development tool for the community. Our main concern, though, will be airport safety."
The Downtown Merchant's Association had a special meeting Tuesday and it was decided to have a four-fold leaflet printed and sent to tourism trade shows promoting Elkins' downtown shopping area. While not promoting any one entity in particular, the leaflet will promote the overall shopping and dining spectrum. This in an effort to encourage bus companies to incorporate time for local shopping into the schedules of those who come to Elkins.
Local shopkeepers and restaurant owners are concerned that they are missing the economic boon that tourism is bringing to their city.
Keep in mind that the annual Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 5. If you want to be in the parade, get your request in to the chamber office immediately.
Downtown merchants are planning an open house that evening also - some may carry it over to include Saturday evening as well. What better way to kick off the Christmas season than a parade with youngsters' faces aglow with the expectations of the season - and a visit with Santa after the parade. Let's all join in and make this the best season "kick-off" yet. Those who would like to help with the parade - and help is always needed - may call the chamber office at (304) 636-2717, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.