BUCKHANNON – One might say the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority has finished up its pilot project at the Upshur County Regional Airport.
That’s because the completion of a more than 1,400-square-foot terminal building is designed specifically with pilots – and their passengers – in mind.
Once open, the new building will serve as a hub in which pilots can rest, monitor the weather and wait for passengers, Phil Loftis, treasurer of the Airport Authority, told the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce Monday at their monthly meeting.
“The purpose of this brand new facility that you’re sitting in … that we’re really just getting started to bring online … is to provide a place for pilots and their passengers to congregate – for passengers to wait for pilots to come in or for pilots to wait for their passengers that have business in the area to conduct that business,” Loftis said. “They need to be able to be able to get access to information about weather and other kinds of things, sign up for fuel sales and other kinds of activities that they may want to do.”
“In general, it just provides a nicer place for folks to sit and wait, and nobody likes to wait on aircraft, but if you’re going to do it, you want a place where you can do that in some comfort,” Loftis added.
Construction on the building wrapped up in August, and once wireless internet is up and running, Loftis said he expects the terminal to give, “a good first impression to visitors to our community who fly in.”
“In the past, we’ve had a less effective means of doing that,” he said, “and this really lets us fill a big need. Once we get everything set up the way we want, [the terminal] is going to be a tremendous asset to the airport.”
The Airport Authority’s office, which is now housed in the Upshur County Courthouse, will be set up in the terminal.
In addition, Loftis said the terminal will also make hosting the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Day free flights for kids much easier. (The event usually takes place in September and will return to the Upshur County Regional Airport in 2020.)
The Federal Aviation Administration funded 90 percent of the more than $700,000 project, and the county commission chipped in the remainder.
“The FAA was able to come up with additional funding, which they almost never do,” Loftis said, “and the county commission was also able to tap into some of its resources as well, and that’s why we’re sitting in this finished building today.”
The Airport Authority plans to furnish the building with chairs and tables for pilots and passengers and establish a meeting/conference room with an accordion door. In anticipation of being able to hire additional staff members, there’s a lockable room in the back of the building that Loftis envisions being utilized for accounting and secure recordkeeping.
Loftis and airport service manager, Jamie Wilt, also briefed chamber members on the airport generally, saying many residents aren’t even aware the airport is located off the Brushy Fork Road in Upshur County.
“We’re considered a general aviation airport, and that means you don’t see, and you’ll never see, scheduled air service out of here, but we do offer the ability for chartered [flight service] outfits that are based in other areas to come in here and easily pick up passengers,” Loftis said. “A lot folks don’t know that we even exist, and we would like to change that over the next period of time, and that’s an objective that we have.”
In addition to hosting future Young Eagles free flight days, Loftis said the airport is eager to work with universities, colleges and other entities to secure a flight instructor who would teach flying lessons at the airport.
And the demand for pilots is growing, he added.
“The need for aviation maintenance and aviation flight instructors – and pilots in particular – is really going to be ramping up over the next 10 years,” Loftis explained. “The folks who have been flying for decades are now retiring, and the need for additional pilots is starting to grow by leaps and bounds, so we see a strong opportunity in that area, and we’ll be working also with Pierpont Technical College and some others to do some educational activities.”
Upshur County Regional Airport houses two large commercial hangars and a medium-sized one; while two entities – including HealthNet Aeromedical Services – share one of the large hangars, the other is between tenants, with a new one prepping to move in soon, Loftis said.
As far as the Airport Authority is concerned, the construction of a terminal doesn’t mark the end of the its plans, Loftis said, adding the BUAA hopes to build addition hangars to expand business development capability. In particular, Airport Authority officials would like to have an aircraft maintenance and repair business move in, in the future.
Expanding the runway another thousand feet from its current length of 4,200 feet would allow small business jets to land and take off from the airport. Unfortunately, that could be costly due to the topography of the land.
“If we had another 1,000 feet of run, we would be able to land and take off fully loaded most small business jets – that’s sort of the mid-range goal that we’re trying to get to,” Loftis said. “Unfortunately, there’s a gully in between the end of the runway and about a 1,000 out, so that next project is going to be probably $5 to $7 million.”
Overall, the Upshur County Regional Airport is a $10 million investment, with the FAA contributing 90 percent, the state chipping in 5 percent and the rest coming from the county commission and other local sources.