WILLIAMSTOWN - Members of both the Wood County and Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport boards heard several scenarios for the airport's future on Wednesday.
"The main driver for this whole analysis is the future of EAS," said Tom Reich, president and managing partner for Air Service Partners out of Alexandria, Va.
Essential Air Service pays nothing to the rural airports but subsidizes commercial service to them by paying airlines for completed flights. The money spent on this does not come from the federal general fund, but the Aviation Trust Fund, which is comprised of money collected through overfly rights for foreign planes to fly in U.S. airspace as well as various taxes paid by aviation travelers.
Because of issues in Congress, the future of the program is unknown, which makes the study uncertain, Reich said.
"There will be some changes coming, in my professional opinion, but I don't know what those are," he said.
The four scenarios Reich gave the joint boards include:
On the Airport
Officials for the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport were given several scenarios on the airport's future by an airport consultation firm Wednesday.
The boards were told there were four ways the airport could go that includes maintaining the way things are going, recruiting a leisure air service and losing all air service.
Airport manager Terry Moore said he would like to use funds left over from the grant used to pay for the study to allow it to continue for more information.
* The airport could lose about $20,000 in the annual budget if things continue as they have;
* The airport keeps the current EAS service and brings in a leisure travel service that allows the facility to not only keep everything as is, but also have an extra $71,000 for the year;
* The airport could lose EAS, but get leisure service and lose $50,000 in the annual budget through the loss of the rental car service and possibly the restaurant;
* The airport could lose all commercial service and lose more than $250,000 in income.
"It makes sense that (leisure air service) would be here," Reich said. "I have spoken with Allegiant Air and they are interested in learning more about the market here.
"I believe that you have a 50-50 shot of getting their service here," he added.
Leisure air travel companies, such as Allegiant, provide two or three flights a week to specific destinations, including Orlando, Fla., to enhance service at airports.
Airport manager Terry Moore said because the airport's current commercial service to Cleveland by Gulfstream International Airlines is provided through EAS, he and the boards cannot bring in competitive air service, but leisure travel is not considered competition to the service by Gulfstream.
"Allegiant could enhance our service, but would not be considered a problem to Gulfstream," Moore said.
Huntington is the closest airport with service provided by Allegiant.
"The objective is to provide wanted service to the community not already available and get enplanements up for the extra funds," Moore said.
Enplanements determine how much a facility receives in federal AIP funds.
One tip Reich gave the boards was to extend marketing into Washington County because he learned, through the study, that virtually all Ohio residents in the area drive to Columbus instead of looking at the local airport.
"It's pretty dramatic," Reich said. "There is something about these natural state lines - like rivers - that makes people think people just don't cross them."
The survey by Air Service Partners was funded by a $60,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development Grant with the $12,000 matching funds provided by the state of West Virginia and the Wood County Commission.
"We would like to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to modify the grant and allow the study to continue," Moore said.
The study not only incorporated the current Gulfstream service, but also the previous service by Colgan Air to Washington Dulles International Airlines near Washington, D.C. This service ended last October when the DOT chose to switch air service carriers at the airport.