KENOVA — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday remembered friends he lost in the 1970 Marshall plane crash while presenting a grant toward safety upgrades at Huntington Tri-State Airport.
Justice made stops at three state airports on Monday to announce thousands of dollars in grants for safety and other infrastructure upgrades. The grants, provided from revenue from the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission’s Aviation Fuel Tax, will cover a portion of funding necessary to match a federal grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
At Tri-State Airport, Justice announced that $325,000 was to be given to the airport. This will cover half of a required 10% match to receive the FAA grant, allowing the airport to tap into $5.8 million of available funding. The airport would cover the remaining 5%.
The federal grant will allow the airport to complete continued taxiway slide repairs, build an improved drainage system and make additional runway safety improvements.
Justice, standing in the airport’s Huntington Jet Center, said he thought of his time as a Marshall student when he heard news of the Southern Airways Flight 932 crash, which killed most of the university’s football team. The chartered jet crashed after clipping a line of trees just two miles short of the airport’s runway.
“We have to put a paramount on safety,” Justice said. “We’ve got to absolutely know that the economic engines of our communities are our airports and we got to have safe, good and quality airports. That’s all there is to it.”
The grant will allow the airport to repair three slides that are compromising safety, said Brent Brown, airport director. One of those slides is already under repair thanks to a similar grant presented by Justice in August.
One slide is near an airport hangar and another threatens the structural integrity of a snow removal equipment building, Brown said.
A third slip is at an area beside the runway, which was caused by a pond that was drained. In August, Justice announced the airport would receive $10 million from the FAA and $1.1 million from the state as a necessary match. That repair is being made in three phases to be completed early next year, Brown said.
“As the airport’s expanded, that infrastructure wasn’t there to allow the proper drainage,” Brown said. “With all this additional water we are getting, it just hits the bedrock and just slips out. It’s incredible.”
The other two slips would take approximately 90 days to repair, he said. The grant will help improve overall drainage at the airport, preventing the slips from returning.
In addition to the grant announcement, Justice proclaimed October as General Aviation Appreciation Month in West Virginia. In 2019, the state has given aid to 24 different airports to help with upgrades and other projects, he said.
Also Monday, Justice visited Yeager Airport in Charleston and Mercer County Airport in Bluefield to announce further grant awards for infrastructure improvements. Justice was joined in Huntington by Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Sean Hill, West Virginia Aeronautics Commission director.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.