Fuel sales, private jet traffic up at airport

WILLIAMSTOWN – The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is continuing to see growth in some areas and changes in others.

Last month’s fuel sales topped 26,000 gallons with about 22,000 of that being jet fuel.

“This March had the best fuel sales for the month in the last six years,” said airport manager Jeff McDougle.

This is a similar amount of fuel to what was sold in January, which was the biggest first month of the year since 2009.

McDougle said he believes better weather and the natural gas industry have led to the jump in sales.

“Weekend pilots are back out again because the 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.”

The increase in private jet traffic has been linked to the Marcellus and Utica shale industries that have shot up throughout Ohio and West Virginia in the last few years.

“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.”

As for the number of passengers who used the commercial service offered through Silver Airways between the local airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, things are not so rosy.

Last month’s enplanements included 463 passengers, which was down significantly from March 2013 when 665 passengers used the service.

“This brings the number of passengers for the first quarter of the year to about 1,200 – about 500 below the first quarter of last year,” said McDougle.

The reason for the decline is several fold and is more on the side of Silver Airways than the local traveling public, according to McDougle.

“The biggest reason is the number of canceled flights,” he said.

Of the roughly 100 commercial flights the airport receives from Silver Airways a month, 28 were canceled in March, many of them because of weather issues. The other cancellations were mainly due to pilot issues, McDougle said.

“The airline is currently having issues with switching out their crew from the Beech 1900 to the Saab 340,” he said. “There are also issues with the local flight schedule that are being worked out.”

The flight schedule is an issue because of new federal regulations on the working hours of commercial pilots. McDougle said the flight that lands locally around 9:30 each night is too late to allow the pilots who bring it in to fly the 6 a.m. departure the next day.

“The local flight schedule doesn’t work with the new pilot regulations, so the airline is aware of the problems and has been tinkering with the schedule to get things aligned,” the manager added.

Airport officials are awaiting the April 17 deadline for proposals for Essential Air Service (EAS) bids to provide commercial service to the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and four others in the tri-state area.

“I haven’t been contacted by any airlines who seem to be actively interested in placing a bid,” said McDougle. “I know Silver is interested in continuing to work with us, so I don’t think we will have issues when the bids come in.”

Members of both the Wood County Airport Authority, the managing arm of the airport, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority, the marketing arm of the facility, will have a chance to look through the bids received and make a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which makes the decision as to who will provide the service.

The new service must be chosen and have operations ready to begin before Silver can end its current service to Cleveland, which can be no later than June 14, as dictated by the USDOT.

The airline announced in February it planned to switch the aircraft used and destination for flights after Silver Airways’ codesharing partner United Airlines announced it will no longer use the Cleveland airport as a hub after May 15.