Cumberland Times-News

Local News

April 27, 2013

Informational session takes flight

Potomac Highlands Airport Authority to host summer meeting

WILEY FORD, W.Va. — The Potomac Highlands Airport Authority agreed on Thursday to host an informational session this summer to bring everyone up to speed on the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport and to discuss its master plan and future direction for the facility.

The meeting will include as many key players as possible, including delegates and secretaries of economic development for both West Virginia and Maryland, officials said.

“It’s not a forum for input from the community. It’s education to get everyone on the same page so we can then turn around and ask for state funding or federal funding or anything else we are looking for,” said Stu Czapski, executive director of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.

Airport Manager Ryan Shaffer has been reviewing the master plan and airport layout plan to determine what can be done to make the facility more successful.

“The majority of the master plan are some of the things we have in place now, but basically entails what we have on site, what we own and what they anticipate us moving into in the future,” said Shaffer.

The plan shows that in 2012 the airport should have been operating on $50,000 a year and it’s about $13,500 currently, according to Shaffer. In 1991, when the plan was created, Cumberland was booming, he said.

Tha airport isn’t bound by the master plan but is bound by the layout plan because that is what the Federal Aviation Administration uses when administering funds, Shaffer said.

The board also agreed to form a working group comprised of several authority members as well as Shaffer and Max White. That group will work in conjunction with Mona Ridder, executive director of the Mineral County Development Authority, Czapski and Steve Spahr, chief of staff and vice president for economic development at Frostburg State University, to further the economic development at the airport.

FSU President  Jonathan Gibralter is interested in a ground flight school at the airport and has been exploring the possibility for a couple of years, according to Spahr.

“Recent conversations with the board and with the chair have led us to believe the time might be right time to start,” said Spahr. “We are looking at grant opportunities. We are looking at the possibility of developing a program which would be a bachelor’s for aero engineering for a commercial pilot’s license. It’s very preliminary. We expect to work hand in hand and make some progress in the near future.”

It would take at least three years for someone to create the program for the ground flight school, according to Spahr.

The idea of a ground flight school was brought to the board’s attention in 2006 and members voted it down, according to Creade Brodie Jr. authority chairman.

“As soon as we took over we jumped right back into this with Steve (Spahr) and Mr. Gibralter and they are all for this,” said Brodie.

During the meeting, Ridder showed the board a plan for a proposed airport industrial park and stressed the importance of freight service. The park would likely have manufactured goods transported to the airport for distribution.

Ridder discussed the possibility of an inland port on 300 acres of CSX property in Carpendale that would be necessary if the airport decided to utilize freight. 

“If you have freight flying in you need to put it on a truck to go somewhere. If you have the inland port it can go by rail, it can go by truck,” said Ridder. “It will help you, it will help the entire region.”

Ridder has been in contact with the West Virginia Public Port Authority, they are very interested in the project and will be visiting in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s an idea in its infancy,” said Ridder. “I want to see economic growth of wealth in Mineral County.”  

Also during the meeting, Shaffer indicated that retired Northwest Airlines Capt. Steve Van Kirk and his brother Malcolm Van Kirk are still interest in creating an aviation heritage museum in Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. hangar, but they are currently experiencing financial difficulties.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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