The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


July 1, 2014

Aviation gains

Raleigh County Memorial Airport reaching for the future

June proved to be a big month for Raleigh County Memorial Airport.

A large group of people bound for a Boy Scouts meeting at the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve arrived by plane and small jet, filling the parking areas at the airport with around a dozen aircraft.

“We’ve never had that many airplanes here on the ground at the same time,” said airport manager Tom Cochran.

We hope, and anticipate, such a satisfying traffic pattern at the airport becomes the new normal.

Raleigh County Memorial Airport is caught in an in-between stage at the moment, not quite big enough for a control tower, but increasingly seeing more and more air traffic on its runways as it continues to grow.

A 2010 study found that it was not quite to the stage where investment in a tower would be cost-effective since its 20,000 to 25,000 annual “activities”  were below the 30,000 to 40,000 annual activities that determine an airport should have a tower.

Activities are events such as landings and takeoffs.

Cochran hopes that, in lieu of an actual tower to monitor takeoffs, landings and airspace at his airport, a virtual tower could be put in place to streamline air traffic control and replace reliance on controllers in Charleston.

 “Charleston gives (planes) clearance to come in to Beckley,” said Cochran. “However, when they give that clearance, the Charleston radar can only see them down to 5,000 feet, so from 5,000 feet to the ground, nobody can see them.”

Cochran said that the virtual tower technology would provide the airport with radar to alert planes flying beneath 5,000 feet if another plane were flying in its airspace.

General aviation airports, like Raleigh Memorial, are more than just feeder airports designed to reduce congestion at major airports.

In fact, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a study in 2009 showed that general aviation airports contributed $38.8 billion to the nation’s economy.

Smaller airports will play an increasingly important role in the new economy, one that is decentralized and less dependent on locating offices or warehouses or staff in metropolitan areas.

From tech startups to local businesses serving national and even international markets, having local and immediate access to an airfield is critical when it comes to customer service and sales.

Smaller airports have distinct advantages over larger metropolitan airports. They save time, and money, since they are easier to access and don’t have lengthy security delays.

“Corporate aviation supports business,” said Cochran. A virtual tower for Raleigh Memorial “would be an economic development tool for all of southern West Virginia.”

Raleigh County Memorial Airport will celebrate its 62nd birthday on Friday. We think its best years are still to come.

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