Contour posts strong first month at airport

Private company interested in building hangar

Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Manager Glen Kelly listens to discussion during Tuesday’s Wood County Airport Authority meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

WILLIAMSTOWN — Enplanements exceeded expectations in Contour Airlines’ first month of service at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

Airport Manager Glen Kelly said during Tuesday’s Wood County Airport Authority meeting that he’d projected 270 enplanements based on ticket sales through mid-December for Contour’s flights to and from Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Dec. 5. But a surge around Christmastime pushed the actual number to 340.

That’s short of December 2017’s 404, although some quick math by authority President Bill Richardson suggested Contour would have kept pace with a full month of flights.

“That would have been 408 for the whole month,” he said.

Contour took Dec. 5 as the airport’s federally subsidized Essential Air Service provider, following predecessor Via Air’s early departure in November. After initial optimism when Via arrived in the fall of 2016, the service was plagued by delays and cancellations, primarily related to scheduled maintenance issues as the company expanded its service in West Virginia. Enplanements dropped from 360 in August to 165 in September and 71 in October. Via tallied just 27 enplanements in November, as it made just four flights due to scheduled maintenance and the loss of its gate in Charlotte over non-payment issues.

The only scheduled flights Contour didn’t make in December were two that were canceled due to weather in Charlotte, Kelly said.

When he visited the airport in October, Contour CEO Matt Chaifetz stressed the company’s commitment to reliability. Kelly said Tuesday that the airport’s contract with the company requires a 95 percent completion rate or it could be terminated, with notice.

“That’s a high standard,” authority member Terry Moore said.

Kelly said Contour’s station manager, who has worked at the airport for Via and Silver Airways before them, told him some passengers have returned to the airport for the first time in a while, lured in part by service on a jet instead of a turboprop.

“He’s saying he’s seeing people he hasn’t seen in three or four years,” Kelly said.

Moore attributed the positive numbers in December largely to word of mouth. The airport is accepting requests for proposals to redo its website, and money has been allocated for additional marketing of the service. A former airport manager himself, Moore said the airport hasn’t always emphasized its online presence since many customers were older and didn’t use the Internet as much.

“I think we’ve evolved and we’re all much more computer literate,” he said. “I think that’s (the website) a key thing in our success.”

Also during the meeting, Kelly told authority members he’s received strong interest from a private company in building a new hangar at the airport, one large enough to house aircraft even bigger than what Contour is using.

“They actually want to have a hangar by June,” he said.

Kelly has been working to obtain funding and support to expand an existing hangar or construct a new one large enough to accommodate Contour’s plane overnight, to mitigate any potential issues that could affect morning flights. He declined to release the name of the interested party Tuesday, saying no agreement has been reached and negotiations are ongoing. Any agreement would have to come before the authority for approval.

The hangar would be located at the end of the airport’s south ramp, Kelly said. That would require water and sewer infrastructure to be pulled from the old National Guard facility at the airport or a housing development on Mulberry Road, he said.

Doing that will be expensive, but in the long run, it could open up the property for additional development, Kelly said.

“When you have infrastructure there, it’s going to be more valuable,” he said.

Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay, a member of the authority, said he would check with Wood County Economic Development Director Lindsey Piersol to see if there is any state funding available that could assist with construction of the hangar.