The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 10, 2013

Greenbrier County

Airport manager Jerry O’Sullivan quashes airport closing rumors

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — "The airport will not close,” Greenbrier Valley Airport manager Jerry O’Sullivan firmly told the Greenbrier County Commission and a crowd of around 40 gathered at a courthouse meeting Tuesday evening.

O’Sullivan said rumors had begun in the community about the possibility that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to close the facility’s control tower would result in the loss of the local airport, but nothing could be further from the truth.

He noted that the Raleigh County Airport has no control tower and yet has regular flights in and out by the same commercial carrier — Silver Airways — that serves Greenbrier Valley.

O’Sullivan told the commissioners that, while he still hopes a new federal budget will cause the FAA to reverse course on the many air-traffic control tower closings now scheduled for June 15, the day may come that the Airport Authority will appeal to the county for funding assistance to keep the local tower open.

“The safety of our airport relies a lot on our tower,” O’Sullivan noted.

He said it is obvious the FAA didn’t take safety into consideration in making the decision to shutter nearly 150 contract towers.

“There’s no safety justification for it, and it is dangerous,” he stated.

Commission President Karen Lobban presented her fellow commissioners with a letter from Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via confirming that an allocation of money from the arts and recreation fund would be legal. Lobban told The Register-Herald last week that she planned to start the wheels in motion to give $100,000 from the arts and rec coffers to the Airport Authority to help defray the anticipated $250,000 expense of keeping the tower open until the FAA’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

No commission vote on funding was taken Tuesday, however, largely because the closure deadline — originally announced as May 5 — was forced back five weeks by a flurry of lawsuits filed by various airports across the nation.

Greenbrier County Airport Authority President Lowell Johnson, who also attended the commission session, said he did not expect a vote Tuesday.

“We’re not really asking for money at this moment,” he explained in an interview with The Register-Herald. “We just want to alert the commission and the community to the situation and (quash) the rumors about the possibility the airport will close.”

Johnson added, “If we can keep the tower open until Oct. 1, our tower might be put back in the federal budget for the new fiscal year.”

Fellow Airport Authority member Cassandria Perkins noted, “We don’t want to be left holding the bag.”

The Airport Authority’s regular quarterly meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, at which time the tower’s plight will be addressed further.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com