The Raleigh County Memorial Airport (RCMA) continues to expand its appeal with the utilization of land and infrastructure, which RCMA Manager Tom Cochran hopes will attract aerospace industry businesses to the area, resulting in more jobs for southern West Virginia residents.
The Raleigh County Memorial Airport in Beaver has had a long history of adapting to the needs of the industry.
In 1948, acquisition for a 3,000-acre plot of land began- land that only four years later would become the grounds of the Raleigh County Memorial Airport.
At the time the airport was dedicated in July of 1952, it had one east-west runway that was 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.
For the first few decades, Piedmont Airlines provided commercial services at the airport using DC-3’s, traveling from West Virginia to cities all over the east coast.
By the late 1970s, the airport had already added a north-south runway, which measures 6,750 feet in length and 150 feet in width. The runway was resurfaced in 2001, which allowed the strip to sustain even more weight from incoming aircraft.
In 1978, another valuable asset- 24,000-square-foot terminal, which houses a restaurant, gift shop, rental office space, airline terminals and a Hertz and Enterprise rental car service- was constructed.
These early developments were made possible by the area’s strong coal industry, as well as funding from the Federal Aviation Administrations.
Over the years, the airport gradually made notable changes with the hopes of attracting large aerospace corporations in the future.
Today, RCMA, which is open 24 hours a day and operates with 12 employees, offers daily commercial flights to and from Douglas International Airport (CLT) in Charlotte, North Carolina through Contour Airlines, one of the largest Part 135 operators in the United States. The company operates a diverse fleet of aircraft including regional airliners for commercial services and business jets used for private charter.
As the state’s coal industry began to dwindle, the airport knew they needed to diversify. This led to the creation of the airport’s two industrial parks. These parks, one that measures 174 acres and one that measures 278 acres, have already attracted hydraulic companies, electric companies and small manufacturers to Raleigh County.
The goal now, according to Cochran, is to attract more aerospace businesses.
One way in which Cochran hopes to accomplish this is by connecting the airport to a prominent rail line located only three miles away via a private road. An initial engineering study has already been completed.
“…we’ll have the rail, air and truck and auto access to this airport,” Cochran explained.
These infrastructure developments have also prompted capital opportunities of $8 million of committed Federal, State, County and Local funding acquired through New River Gorge Regional Development Authority of 105 acres of “site ready” aerospace property.
Cochran says the site is in the environmental stage of completion. At the beginning of the new year, the airport will begin selecting bidders to begin construction. The project has a completion date of one year.
Positioned at an elevation of 2,504, only an hour’s plane ride from Washington D.C. and within a 10-hour drive of 65 percent of the U.S. population, Cochran believes RCMA is the perfect location for growth.
Cochran says if the airport’s new site is successful in attracting new aerospace businesses it will lead to the creation of new jobs.
“If we are successful in what this site will do, this could be a game-changer for this area for the number of jobs it will create. Aerospace is large enough in so many areas that anything they do will bring us jobs,” he stated.
“This is an opportunity for us to actually do something within the community. Companies don’t want to come to an area making flat land and that don’t have some way to support the workforce.”
With the possibility of an influx of new jobs comes the need for qualified workers. To supply these workers, RCMA has partnered with the New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) and the West Virginia University Institute of Technology to create an A&P (airframe and powerplant) school, which will train students on how to build the structural and mechanical components of various aircraft.
WV Tech currently offers a four-year degree in aerospace engineering, but Cochran says students will have the option to receive a two-year A&P certification through NRCTC once the program is developed.
Jenni Canterbury, Public Relations Manager at New River, says the college is excited to work with the airport to support the aerospace industry by supplying them with trained workers.
“It’s really exciting on a basic level to see these industries come to southern West Virginia and to be able to support that,” Canterbury said.
“If we can train people to go to work and provide them with the opportunity to put food on their table and support their family then we have succeeded.”
Cochran believes this new program will appeal to former coal miners, who generally have an aptitude for mechanics and hydraulic and electrical experience, but says aerospace industry jobs aren’t limited to coal miners.
“Even the younger generation that wants to be in the aerospace- they can go for the two-year program for the A & P, or they can go on for the four-year through West Virginia Tech that had an aerospace engineering cadre within their school as we speak.
The training and educational opportunities already present in southern West Virginia resulted in the airport receiving the AEROReady Community Certification from the Tucson Atlantic Consulting and Common Sense and Economic Development and the University of Southern Mississippi.
The certification connects seven counties in southern West Virginia supporting an additional workforce potential. These counties include Raleigh, Fayette, Summers, Nicholas, Wyoming, Mercer and McDowell.
While Cochran anticipates great things for the airport and the county, he believes it takes proactive leadership among local government leaders to help stimulate growth.