Airport sees increase of private jets

WILLIAMSTOWN – As the area awaits news on the local growth of the natural gas industry, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport has already noticed changes.

“We have been seeing a number of private planes coming in for what we believe is the gas industry,” said airport manager Jeff McDougle.

For at least the past two years, officials with the airport have reported seeing private planes and jets with decals of Texas flags and other identifying markers of possible ties with energy industries parked on the tarmac near hangars.

Former airport manager Terry Moore told the Wood County Airport Authority, the managing arm of the facility, about the influx of traffic more than a year-and-a-half ago, McDougle said. Moore retired from the airport in January after seven years as manager and remains as a member of the board.

“Terry talked about seeing a private jet with a Texas flag on the tail and other planes he hadn’t seen before the shale boom hit the area,” McDougle added. “I’m seeing the Texas plane and many others now.”

Most recently, McDougle said the number of private jets using the local airport has continued to increase and, along with weekend pilots who fly small two to four-seat planes, have helped the airport’s fuel sales grow.

“Along with more traffic, it seems the natural gas industry/Marcellus shale/cracker plant/whatever you want to call it, is helping the airport’s bottom line,” McDougle said.

The airport’s main source of revenue is fuel sales, which have kept the business afloat in the last seven-plus years as the economy weakened along with the airline and travel industries. With the increased interest in the natural gas industry through Marcellus and Utica shale in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the airport is seeing more fuel sold.

The proof is in the number of gallons of jet fuel sold, which topped out at about 22,000 gallons last month of a total of 26,000 gallons of both jet and regular unleaded fuels, McDougle said.

“Weekend pilots are back out again because weather is getting better and we are seeing a lot of private jets,” he said. “A large private jet was here from Texas the other day and we are seeing more and more of them.

“We don’t know for sure, but there has been more traffic from those areas of the country known for oil and gas,” McDougle added. “But fuel sales have been a big bright spot for the airport with the uncertainty of the other parts.

The airport is only one of several businesses that has noticed an impact with the oil and gas growth. Many hotels throughout the area have said a large number of people rent rooms for long periods of time for the exploration and extraction and of natural gas and oil from the underground shale formations.

Many hotels in Marietta have calculated as much as 75 or 80 percent of their business is from the boom.