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Airport board considers chemical leak impact

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yeager Airport's governing board is looking into the long-term business impact of the Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River.

"There were a lot of things that happened," Rick Atkinson, airport director, said. "We don't have the total cost impact yet."

Under orders from the Kanawha County Health Department, the airport's restaurant, café and lounge were closed for five days.

Those establishments are now back to business. The restaurant is using bottled water to make coffee, offering bottled soft drinks and using ice made without tap water.

All water fountains throughout the airport are open but have bottled water stations beside them.

Airport chairman Edison Hill wants to put notices beside the water fountains.

"People flying in would otherwise have no idea (about the chemical spill and contaminated water)," Hill said.

Atkinson added even rental cars couldn't be washed for days.

All flight crews except American Airlines stay overnight in Charleston between late night and early morning flights.

"They weren't going to stay in Charleston, which would have meant they wouldn't have all the early flights," Atkinson said.

Instead, flight crews stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Barboursville. Atkinson said only a few United flights were canceled because the airline chose to defer flights to Yeager and perform maintenance on its aircrafts.

Once the airport has a full understanding of the cost impact, it hopes FEMA funds will be available to recoup some of the losses.

The airport is still housing about 100 tractor-trailer trucks provided by FEMA to supply water to residents of the nine affected counties.

At the height of the water situation, there were about 200 trucks. During the derecho, there were about 250 FEMA trucks occupying space at the Air Guard, said members of the 130th Air Guard present at the meeting.

"It's been very busy," Air Guard officials said. "Hopefully, we'll transition soon from the truck stop and back to aviation."

Members approved transitioning to a digital system to report any abnormalities at the airport to the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently the airport reports any problems by phone.

Yeager will be the 126th airport to install the system.

"It will be a lot better than what the airport has now," said Tim Murnahan with airport operations. "The only cost to us would be to provide a computer in the maintenance shop with Internet."

Brian Belcher with the airport's marketing said, "opportunities continue to grow."

Spirit Airlines will start its direct flight to Myrtle Beach on March 22 instead of April 5. That flight will also bring in the largest commercial flight to Yeager and West Virginia with 178 seats available.

During January, the airport had 4.6 percent more seats sold than January last year.

Airport officials are also looking into securing a direct flight to New York after losing its direct flight in the American, US Airways merger.

"That flight was much appreciated and it's always full," said Hill. 

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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