CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year's loss of nonstop air service to Orlando is being blamed for a round of belt-tightening at Charleston's Yeager Airport that is expected to include frozen wages, increased employee health-care contributions and, possibly, a few layoffs.
On Wednesday, the airport's governing board approved a draft budget that calls for lopping nearly $675,000 from Yeager's personnel and marketing budget to help keep per-passenger enplanement costs close to the current rate of $10.73.
Passenger boardings dropped from about 280,000 to about 260,000 over the past year, due mainly to the loss of nonstop Charleston-Orlando air service following Southwest Airlines' takeover of AirTran, the carrier that operated the route, airport officials said.
AirTran had successfully operated the Charleston-Orlando run for three years before dropping it last June. Southwest's contract with its employees prohibited the carrier from operating in airports where ticketing and ground support duties for the low-cost carrier would have been hired out to non-airline contractors, such as Yeager's CRW Services.
To help make up for the passenger boarding fees and airline landing fees from the loss of the Orlando route, Yeager's draft budget calls for the airport's 51 employees to forgo annual wage increases, currently set at three percent, during the coming fiscal year and pay a higher share of health-care premiums.
Several positions expected to become vacant might not be filled, "and we may have to eliminate a few others," said Rick Atkinson, Yeager's executive director.
Atkinson said raising landing and boarding fees to make up for income losses from the dropped Orlando route runs the risk of having airlines respond by reducing service to the Charleston market.
Some of the $675,000 budget reduction would come from paring $150,000 from the coming fiscal year's marketing budget. A projected $68,000 carryover from the current year's marketing budget will make up for some of that loss.
"With a bigger airport, like the one in Columbus, losing 20,000 passengers wouldn't make that big of a difference" in its operating budget, Atkinson said. "It's a different situation in a smaller airport like ours."
Atkinson said similar belt-tightening approaches were put in place at Yeager after the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attack and again in 2008, when a stagnant economy and high fuel prices sent passenger boardings plummeting across the nation.