Cumberland Times-News

October 20, 2007

Commission pushing to keep corporate jets and aircraft in state

Mona Ridder

PETERSBURG — The West Virginia Aeronautics Commission will again push to have legislation introduced to exempt corporate jets and other aircraft from corporate personal property tax.

The announcement came at the first meeting of the commission ever held at the Grant County Airport – Robert C. Byrd Field.

Commission Chairman Richard Wachtel of Martinsburg said Wednesday that the legislation was introduced last year and failed, largely because of opposition from the state’s assessors.

Wachtel said a survey last year indicated there were 23 corporate aircraft based in the state, one of which was exempt because it belongs to one of the state colleges.

“Now there are 11 and the one is still exempt,” he said. “It’s obvious we are losing corporate aircraft to the states surrounding us which have little or no corporate personal property tax.”

He said that bill will be introduced again in the next session and he urged the large number of members of the aviation community from around the state present for the meeting to talk with legislators and other state officials to encourage passage of the legislation.

“Especially talk to the assessors; I’m convinced the assessors don’t understand the issue and the importance of keeping aircraft based in the state,” he said.

The commission spent the day in Grant County, touring the airport before holding their meeting.

Commission members include Gerald Sites, who is also chairman of the Grant County Airport Authority, James E. Wallace, Eldon Haught and Paul Mattox, who is the West Virginia Secretary of Transportation.

Susan Chernenko, director of the aeronautics commission, was also present.

Representatives from several airports around the state made presentations on their grant applications for a 2.5 percent share of state funding to match with Federal Aviation Administration funding for capital projects.

Each of the projects was approved and included $11,842 for the Mingo County Airport, $24,489 for the Morgantown Municipal Airport, $109,210 for the North Central West Virginia Airport, $3,947 for the Upshur County Regional Airport, $2,860 and $43,119 for the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport and $13,643 ad $89,084 for the Yeager Airport.

The projects include runway rehabilitation, safety upgrades, obstruction removal, hangar construction, master plan studies and construction design.

The final item of business was a presentation by Col. Rodney Moore, commander of the West Virginia Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.

The CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, formed Dec. 1, 1941, by Gil Robb Wilson, a West Virginia native.

Moore said the CAP targets three main activities, aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.

“We focus on young people in the cadet program,” he said, noting various activities in which youth from 12 to 21 can participate, including the Young Eagles program, which provides flight opportunities and a summer camp.

“We had four cadets to solo this year,” Moore said.

The CAP participates in search and rescue using CAP-owned aircraft, and the cadets act as the ground team.

“We also support state agencies,” he said, specifically, the Division of Natural Resources and Military Affairs.

He said that with the DNR, they have tracked animals, specifically bears that are radio-tagged.

The CAP provides disaster relief and uses its planes as a photo platform so that officials can assess damage such as the flood in Wheeling in 2004.

Chernenko pointed out that state support for the CAP is the third highest of any state in the nation after Alaska and Pennsylvania.

The next meeting of the commission will be in Charleston at the Capitol Complex on Jan. 16 during the legislative session.

Mona Ridder can be reached at mridder@times-news.com.