State Congressional delegation celebrates Yeager Airport groundbreaking
CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., were among the dignitaries taking part in a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday on a $23 million project to repair Yeager Airport’s safety overrun area, which collapsed and tumbled down a mountainside in 2015.
Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre said it had been three years and two weeks since the collapse of the runway extension onto Keystone Drive, taking much of Yeager’s engineered materials arresting system (EMAS) with it.
The system, designed to stop runaway aircraft, successfully brought to a halt an airliner that overshot an airport runway in January 2010.
“We know it works, because 34 lives were saved,” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said.
But the system has been out of action since the 2015 landslide. Getting money to repair the damaged mountainside and replace the engineered materials arresting system required congressional intervention, officials said.
Jenkins said it was the “behind-the-scenes” work that went into securing funding for the repair project that many people don’t know about. He said federal law prohibited using funding from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Aviation Administration for construction work, effectively blocking repairs at Yeager.
So members of West Virginia’s delegation joined to get the law changed. Yeager Airport subsequently got a $13.5 million FAA grant to help pay for the engineered materials arresting system repairs.
The project also has a $3 million state match. Mike Hall, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Justice, said the governor recognizes the importance of the airport to the entire state.
Work was scheduled to begin Thursday following the groundbreaking ceremony. New engineered materials arresting system material is expected to arrive by the end of the year.
But, that almost didn’t happen. Manchin said the company that manufactures the material stopped production, which would have delayed construction long enough that Yeager might have lost commercial air service.
Manchin said lobbying by the West Virginia delegation convinced the manufacturer to make more materials for the project.
Sayre said airport officials learned the Jan. 10 incident at Yeager saved the most number of lives of any engineered materials arresting system incident anywhere in the world.
Jenkins, Capito and Manchin said they fly in and out of Yeager Airport frequently, and know how important the airport is to the state.
Capito said out-of-state visitors to Yeager often comment on how nice staff and the people of West Virginia are. Jenkins said the airport is a frequent departure and re-entry point for veterans and their families.
Manchin, a licensed pilot, said his best experience flying at Yeager Airport was in a P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft. The worst, he said, was when he blew a tire in an airplane he was piloting while taxiing.
“They jerked me off that runway so fast it would make your head swim,” he said. “And didn’t miss a single flight.”
Sayre said airport officials hope to extend Yeager’s runway to 7,000 or 8,000 feet to increase air service at the facility.
Orders Construction Co. of St. Albans was the winning bidder on the project.
By: Rusty Marks
Source: The State Journal
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