The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 21, 2013

Virtual tower

Raleigh County at forefront of safer flying at small airports

— This week, several small airports across the country were watching progress taking place in Beckley.

They are in the same predicament as Raleigh County Memorial Airport — trying to maintain actual control towers amid rising costs and looking for solutions, especially amid threats of closure due to sequestration.

But Raleigh County stepped up to the challenge a few months ago, and began researching the probability of a “virtual” tower.

After testing this week using Raleigh County as a sample, experts deemed it successful, saying they were very happy with the outcome.

The results from the tests give many medium to small airports hope, due to the ability to now track air traffic at a fraction of the cost of building and manning actual towers.

Technology available to us today made it possible.

But Tom Cochran and his staff at Raleigh County Memorial Airport are making it happen.

We are very proud that this breakthrough in technology that could revolutionize the aviation industry had much of its origin in our backyard.

More flights will become available to Raleigh County Memorial due to this additional device, opening up to airlines that could not utilize our runways without it.

Not only does the technology promise to save taxpayers millions of dollars, it also potentially saves air travel in similar regions across the country.

But most of all, it will potentially save lives of air travelers.

Pilots will have access to information about obstructions on runways that they didn’t have before, such as birds, animals, vehicles and other aircraft.

The technology passed with flying colors by reports from various experts in the field who watched the tests. Now it must gain momentum from our lawmakers who could steer federal funds toward it.

State leaders also need to grab the torch and help to promote and grow this unique project as well.

North Carolina may have Kitty Hawk.

But future pilots may look to Raleigh County as a birthplace of safer air travel.