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Traffic down at WV airports in 2012

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Last year was a down year for air travel in West Virginia as service cutbacks and changes at the state's seven passenger airports results in a decrease in enplanements.

Traffic wasn't down at all airports. Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport at Parkersburg, for example, reported an increase in boardings, but most airports reported declines in traffic.

Enplanements at Charleston's Yeager Airport, the state's largest, were down about 5 percent to 270,193, said Anthony Gilmer, marketing coordinator. Numbers were down because the airport lost AirTran service to Orlando in June, he said.

"All the flights that we do have, they're performing very well," Gilmer said.

Boardings at Huntington Tri-State Airport were down about 6 percent.

Traffic at North Central West Virginia Airport was down by about 1,300 to 10,787 said Richard B. Rock, interim airport director.

"We were going through a runway extension program. As most of the airports other than Charleston and Huntington, we had a change of carriers," he said.

Last year, Colgan Air, which had provided service to Clarksburg, Morgantown and Beckley, went out of business. Silver Airways replaced Colgan at the three airports.

"Silver is  providing more consistent service. The product is better. The planes are an upgrade from previous service," Rock said.

Michael Clow, director of Morgantown Municipal Airport, said that airport did not lose any flight days because of Colgan's bankruptcy, but traffic still was down 11 percent.

 "We never really went without service. It was that perception that we were going to be without service. People just didn't fly like they were doing before. The end of the year came back pretty well," Clow said.

West Virginia University's move from the Big East to the Big 12 should help in the long run, although it was not much of a factor of WVU's first season there. The Morgantown airport got some business from Big 12 school charters, but some went to other, nearby airports.

"The Big 12 was a big positive for WVU, and it's going to be a plus for us, too," Clow said.

Mid-Ohio Valley had its best year of the past five as boardings went from about 7,400 in 2011 to about 7,800 last year, said Terry Moore, airport manager.

"We were hoping for 8,000 last year. We didn't reach it, but as long as it's going up, we're pretty happy," Moore said.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan flew into the airport once, and the national press corps charter plane landed there when President Barack Obama made a campaign visit to Athens, Ohio. But Ohio University, which uses the airport to handle three football charters in a normal year, needed it only once last year. Moore said he anticipates the normal three Ohio U. football-related charters this year, which will account for about 400 passengers total.

"The real goal is go get us back over 10,000 to get us to full entitlement for airport improvement funding," Moore said.

One thing that concerns the manager of the smaller airports in the state is the future of the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights there. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has been a strong supporter of the program. However, last month, Rockefeller announced he will not run for re-election in 2014.

"It was a boon to West Virginia airports to have him up there. He was an air service senator. Theoretically, the clout we have from West Virginia will be diminished," Moore said.

Rock agreed with that assessment.

"Certainly Sen. Rockefeller has been a champion for the Essential Air Service program, which is obviously vital to providing service to states like West Virginia. It's a concern knowing Sen. Rockefeller will not be there," he said.

Clow said, "I'm interested to see who will step up to be the next champion for Essential Air Service. It's nice to see Rep. (Nick) Rahall is going to be the ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, and of course we have Congressman (David) McKinley."

Moore said, "Hopefully, Essential Air Service doesn't come under the gun again. With the next two years, we've got Sen. Rockefeller to go to bat for us, and hopefully at the end of two years, things will settle down somewhat."