Contour flights begin at MOV Regional Airport
WILLIAMSTOWN — A Contour Airlines jet touched down at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Wednesday morning with a full load of 30 passengers, about evenly split between people who boarded at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and Raleigh County Memorial Airport in Beckley.
It was the first scheduled flight by Contour, the new Essential Air Service provider for the two West Virginia airports, and the start of a relationship officials hope will restore trust — and passenger numbers — at the local airport.
“We are just thrilled that we have what I think’s going to be a great, reliable jet service for the Mid-Ohio Valley,” airport Manager Glen Kelly said. “Hopefully, our flyers will come.”
Contour’s flight took off from Mid-Ohio Valley around 8:40 a.m., later than the scheduled departure time of 8:10 a.m. due to a glitch with a belt loader and waiting for an approaching FedEx plane to land, Kelly said.
The passengers included members of the media and Wood County Airport Authority President Bill Richardson, who wanted to be part of the maiden flight. But there were some regular business travelers as well, said Richardson, who met an area resident who “flies about four times a month to Charlotte.”
Richardson said the flight on the jet — which has enough space for 37 seats but is configured for 30 — was “very comfortable, very roomy, lots of leg room.”
Richardson spent time at the airport, which he’s been through before with previous carrier Via, before boarding the return flight Wednesday afternoon.
He noted the numerous connections, including international destinations, available from the airport. From his seat at Contour’s gate, he could see flights posted to Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia.
“The Charlotte airport is very modern and very convenient,” Richardson said. “It’s a nice place to lay over and make a connection.”
Richardson is a member of the Wood County Airport Authority, which oversees airport operations. They supported the decision of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority, the airport’s marketing arm, to recommend Contour over Via this summer as the provider of federally subsidized Essential Air Service.
Airport officials were optimistic when Via arrived in the fall of 2016 with a near-spotless record in 18 months at the Beckley airport. But the expansion to multiple Mountain State airports was soon accompanied by flight cancellations due to scheduled maintenance issues, and the reliability that made the Florida-based company so appealing began to diminish, along with enplanement numbers.
Via was supposed to have continued service at the local airport through Tuesday, but canceled its remaining flights in early November. Both of its 30-seat, turboprop planes were down for maintenance, and the company’s service at the Charlotte airport had been suspended over non-payment issues.
Contour’s commercial flight business has focused on “rehabilitating” markets that have suffered from poor service, company CEO Matt Chaifetz said when he visited the area in October. Their performance at markets in California, Georgia and Mississippi made them appealing to local officials.
Contour will provide two flights a day, except on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Saturday flight will continue from Charlotte to Tampa, Fla.