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West Virginia has a rich history of disagreement between families, but it’s time for the Cabell County Commission to end its feud with Robert Newlon Airport. A vote to disband the airport commission and the potential subsequent closure of the airpark today would mean closing off Cabell County from economic opportunities, health care and everything else wild and wonderful about West Virginia.

Robert Newlon Airpark and its 2,300-foot grass runway may not be important to the Cabell County Commission, but it is extremely important to the people of Huntington, local businesses, pilots and health care workers who rely on the airport.

Certain members of the Cabell County Commission seek to disband the airport commission in order to consolidate power, subsequently taking rights away from the current leaseholder, Carl Bailey.

A conflict of lease terms is a conflict between individuals. Consolidating power ignores whole communities of people who benefit from the airport.

To underscore how many people love and value the airport, a petition to save the airport had generated more than 5,440 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, with more coming before the ink dries.

These individuals deserve more than a week’s notice before a vote to decide if the airport will become the casualty of a committee power grab.

The runway is an important part of health care infrastructure for the medical airlift helicopters that use the airport to train for real-world emergencies. These helicopters, many of which are from HealthNet Aeromedical Services, connect isolated residents in West Virginia with emergency medical treatment to save critical time when minutes save lives.

The airport with its planes and hangars is also a unique environment for law enforcement training. The airpark allows space allows for agencies to train K-9 units in valuable skills that help keep coal country safe from drug trafficking and crime.

The Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary branch of the U.S. Air Force, has used the airport for its training exercises. Any threat to the airport would create challenges for the Civil Air Patrol in completing its missions of aerospace education and emergency services. Less CAP training for its volunteers and cadets means less workforce development and service for residents.

Robert Newlon Airport has welcomed visitors to Huntington since 1972. The airport’s 2,300-foot grass runway has brought culture and tourism without disturbing the majesty of the hills surrounding it.

Every summer, Newlon Airport’s grassy field turns into a stage where thousands of people come to enjoy bluegrass music and the culture of the Mountain State during the airport’s annual Fly-In Festival.

The Fly-In Festival bluegrass bands play a tune of economic development for the river valley. The festival partners with several local businesses like Pier One Landing Restaurant and Bar, Little Rainbow Treat Co. and others that have been hurt by the pandemic. The event will bring visitors and out-of-state pilots to see West Virginia, spending time and patronizing local shops and restaurants.

The bluegrass does not just soothe the soul of the business pocketbook; it directly contributes in a charitable manner. Proceeds from ticket sales, raffles and donations for this year’s festival go directly to organizations like the Barboursville Bloodhounds nonprofit organization, which supports the Barboursville Police Department K-9 Unit.

Newlon Airport is not just a field on the banks of the Ohio River, but it’s a home, a center for arts and culture, economic opportunity and a life-saving member of our family. The commission should not let a feud kill a member of our family.

Andrew Crider is a pilot and aviation advocate. He is a former public relations specialist for the Virginia Department of Aviation. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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