CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- Just nine months after American Airlines began offering nonstop service between Charleston and Dallas, the Texas city has eclipsed Atlanta as the top destination for passengers using Yeager Airport.
Yeager officials attribute the rapid growth of the Dallas market mainly to an upswing in oil and gas activity in West Virginia, and the abundance of corporate offices for energy concerns in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Immediately after nonstop flights of 50-seat jets traveling between Yeager and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport began operating last June, "we began seeing a lot more oil and gas company people coming in," said Brian Belcher, Yeager's marketing director. "Dallas-Fort Worth also has great connections to international flights, and the Boy Scouts' national headquarters is in the Dallas area" making it easy for personnel at the Bechtel-Summit Scouting Reserve to visit the home office.
Addition of nonstop service is credited with a 41 percent increase in Charleston-Dallas passenger numbers between 2012 and 2013, according to a marketing report presented during Wednesday's meeting of Yeager's board of directors. Dallas-Fort Worth was the sixth most popular destination for Charleston passengers in 2012.
Charleston-Atlanta passenger numbers remained about the same in 2012 and 2013, but the big increase in Dallas-bound passengers nudged Atlanta out of the top spot in passenger numbers and into second place.
Despite losing a nonstop link with Charleston at the same time nonstop service to Dallas began, New York's LaGuardia International Airport dropped only one position on the top 10 destinations list for Yeager Airport. Ranked second in 2012, LaGuardia is now the third most popular destination.
Orlando was ranked Yeager's third most popular destination in 2012, but dropped to sixth place in 2013, after nonstop Charleston-Orlando service ended. AirTran, the carrier for the Charleston-Orlando flights, was taken over by Southwest Airlines in June of 2012. Southwest doesn't operate at airports like Yeager, where ground services are contracted out, rather than handled by employees of the airline.
During Wednesday's meeting, Belcher said three airlines have expressed an interest in the possibility of resuming nonstop service to Orlando, or another popular Florida destination city.
A $700,000 federal grant was awarded to Yeager last year to attract an airline interested in resuming nonstop service to Florida, pay for initial marketing costs, and subsidize the airline during its opening months of operation.
An airport command and control center is taking shape in the lower level of Yeager's passenger terminal, providing airport personnel with a secure space with access to all communications gear and remote camera monitoring equipment. Airport officials and emergency services personnel will use the center during safety incidents at Yeager, as well as for training sessions and security monitoring.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.