Airport on pace to extend 12-year enplanement slump

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws said the city and carrier Southern Airways are prepared to subsidize flight costs to increase the number of passengers flying out of Morgantown Municipal Airport. 

He’s asking the community to get on board. 

Haws recently told Morgantown City Council the airport is on pace to hit about 8,000 enplanements — paying customers boarding aircraft — in 2024. 

The airport needs to hit 10,000 enplanements to trigger the release of $1 million in Airport Improvement Program dollars from the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Falling below that mark — as the municipal airport has each year since 2011 — cuts the AIP allocation by 80%. 

AIP funds are airport infrastructure dollars, making them critical for airports looking at expensive facilities upgrades, like, for example, a $60-plus-million runway extension. 

Just over three years into what was initially envisioned as a five-year project, the city has spent about $14 million of what’s now estimated to be a $62 million undertaking to add 1,001 feet to the airport’s runway. 

Haws said something must change. 

“It is impossible to be productive in today’s world and stay where we’re at. I feel very strongly that we need to move forward and increase, not only enplanements, but the speed with which we are attempting to extend the runway,” he said. 

“The runway is critical in that it allows larger aircraft to come in and will certainly help stabilize the enplanement process, but also increase the revenues whereby the airport can be self-sustaining. The airport is not currently self-sustaining and requires subsidy from the city. As an enterprise fund, that’s not why we set up enterprise funds. We want them to pay for themselves. Right now, it’s impossible.” 

The city recently submitted applications to Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito seeking $30 million in congressionally directed spending in hopes of getting the runway work back on schedule. 

In the meantime, Haws said the city and air carrier Southern Airways are looking at what each can do to bump up passenger numbers in the second half of 2024. 

MGW Director Jonathon Vrabel told The Dominion Post the details are still being worked out. 

“The airport is looking at incentives resulting in discounted ticket prices for new first-time flyers of Southern Airways,” he said. “Based on Southern’s projections, we feel we can reach 10,000 passengers with the right marketing and incentives to get folks flying out of Morgantown.” 

Haws conceded it’s going to take a team effort. 

“We’ve got to try to rally the community and the university and all of us around the airport and its utilization,” Haws said. “It’s a resource … Yes, we can go south for 40 minutes or we can go north for 40 minutes or an hour, but that doesn’t do our community any good.” 

While the official enplanement numbers from 2023 have yet to be released by the United States Department of Transportation, Vrabel said Southern Airways carried 6,986 passengers last year. 

The last time the airport surpassed 7,000 enplanements was 2016. 

TWEET @DominionPostWV