Not a tree has fallen yet, but the Raleigh County Airport Authority is picking up steam in its plan to carve a 13-mile hiking trail into the New River Gorge to accommodate the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree.

One major item still on the treadmill, however, is flight service at the Beckley facility.

There still is no confirmation that Silver Airways is going to be the carrier, once Colgan Air pulls out July 31.

At issue is the fact that an airline taking over at an Essential Air Service airport must have a “co-chair,” or other airline, to act as a mainline carrier, Airport Manager Tom Cochran explained Tuesday to the airport authority.

By that, he explained, passengers must have the assurance they can get an interrupted flight, say from here to San Francisco, with the co-chair picking them up on the rest of the trip.

“This is so you’re not just taken to a hub airport and dropped off,” Cochran said.

“It’s important for us to be vigilant where we are with this service.”

With so many airlines merging of late, he pointed out, only three major carriers remain.

Once known as Gulfstream International Airlines, the designated carrier, Silver Airways, emerged from bankruptcy, but for now is locked into negotiations with United for a contract which would require approval of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Colgan would be willing to remain at the Beckley facility beyond the July 31 cutoff date if the airline wasn’t involved in bankruptcy, Cochran said.

“It would be up to the bankruptcy court,” he said, as to whether Colgan can stay on after the deadline, if the Silver-United deal is still in limbo.

“It’s just a question of how maybe the bankruptcy judge rules on that. We would certainly be in a dire situation at that point.”

In an effort to expedite the transition, Cochran said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is working with both airlines and the DOT. Rockefeller has been a part of the process for some time, long before Colgan decided to abandon airports in Beckley, Bridgeport and Morgantown.

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Of the proposed Boy Scouts trail, Cochran said, “We’ve gained major support on that project,” one that is expected to be laid in time for next year’s Jamboree in Fayette County.

“We have gone through most of the landowners down there for permission to move across the property. And made a presentation to the Piney Creek Watershed Association two weeks ago. The county has signed off on it. The railroad gave us permission to get across the tracks.”

The only caveat imposed by the railroad is that no all-terrain vehicles be allowed on its property, he noted.

Support also has come from the National Park Service, the Beckley Rotary Club, the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce and the federal prison, which has offered labor on weekends, he noted, adding there is room in the specified area of the trail to accommodate 100 tents along the 13-mile trail.

Cochran also told the authority that funds are being sought to complete paving in the Westside industrial park at an estimated cost of $600,000.

“This will really help the businesses out there and give them ingress and egress,” the manager said.

The transfer of property at the end of Runway 19 by the county will allow the airport to generate some revenue and use it for additional development, Cochran said.

Another pending project is a wildlife assessment on the airport grounds, one that is largely funded with federal dollars, he noted.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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