HUNTINGTON — Cabell County officials are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to exclude the Huntington Tri-State Airport from a study into the cost-effectiveness of operating the airport’s air traffic control towers 24 hours a day.
The conclusion of the study could lead to a reduction in hours for air traffic controllers at night, which would hurt the airport financially and create safety risks, the officials said.
In November, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent a memo to 15 airports across the country identifying them as potential candidates for reduced hours at their control towers.
Those airports included the Huntington Tri-State Airport and Yeager Airport in Charleston.
As part of this, Tri-State Airport staff would work with the FAA on a study into the control tower’s staffing and utility costs, as well as a cost/benefit analysis of keeping it open 24 hours a day. A safety review will also be conducted with help from the FAA’s Quality Assurance Group.
Earlier this month, the FAA backed off plans to include Yeager Airport as a candidate for reduced hours after Kanawha County officials and several congressional leaders expressed safety concerns for the West Virginia Air National Guard and other military aircraft taking off and landing there at night, the Charleston-Gazette Mail reported.
Within the past two years, officials also counted about 315 flights arriving after 11 p.m. and they cited the planned construction of the Marshall University School of Aviation as other reasons for 24-hour operation.
Now Cabell County officials are hoping they can similarly convince the FAA to back off its considerations for the Huntington Tri-State Airport.
Cabell commissioners approved sending a letter to the FAA during a regular meeting Thursday, which they said echoed a similar letter sent recently by airport Director Brent Brown.
“One of the reasons is that FedEx flies in and out of our airport,” said Commission President Nancy Cartmill. “They do a lot of flights at night, and that would really hurt the airport financially.”
FedEx holds a contract with the airport to operate FedEx Air and a FedEx ground shipping hub out of the airport’s Aeorplex complex, which is a 100-acre industrial park nearby.
If the FAA mandated eliminating overnight air traffic control, flights would still be able to take off and land at the airport during the night, just without controllers helping them.
“There’s also lots of other reasons — the mountainous terrain and that kind of thing,” Cartmill said. “You just can’t get in and out of there without air traffic controllers.”
It’s unclear when the FAA would begin the proposed study.
The airport currently hosts two major airlines offering nonstop destinations to Charlotte, North Carolina; Orlando, Florida; St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. More than 101,000 people boarded planes at the airport in 2018, according to FAA data.