MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Southern Airways reported the highest number of passengers in 2023 since first landing at the Morgantown Municipal Airport (MGW) in 2017. A total of 13,871 people flew from Morgantown in ’23, up from 13,530 in ’22.

“Southern Airways boarded almost 14,000 passengers this year, which is a new record for them,” Morgantown Municipal Airport director Jonathan Vrabel said on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.” It’s the largest number of passengers since 2011.”

The number of available pilots has been shrinking due to a wave of retirements, increased training requirements, and fewer military-trained pilots available. In 2022, Southern Airways was hit hard during the post-pandemic travel rebound when major airlines lured pilots away from smaller carriers. But Southern Airways has been addressing the issue in Morgantown.

“They seem to have resolved a lot of that in the Morgantown market,” Vrabel said. “We haven’t had any delays or cancellations for the last two months now because of crews; they’re doing really well now.”

MGW offers daily service to and from the Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) and the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT). Vrabel said that between those two connections, residents can travel anywhere in the world.

“You show up here a half-hour or 45 minutes before your flight; you don’t need to be here three hours prior like other airports,” Vrabel said. “It’s nice and convenient; you fly up there, grab your connection, and go wherever you’re headed.”

Passengers and enplanements are two different things.

The Essential Air Service (EAS) program, established in 1978, provides a subsidy to airlines to cover costs associated with operating from rural airports. The Morgantown Municipal Airport needs 10,000 enplanements to qualify for $1 million, falling below as they have every year since 2011 dropped that figure to $15,000.

Vrabel said airlines are expected to bid for the right to provide EAS from Morgantown this July, and there are some new airlines entering the EAS market.

“I’m hoping to see this July, when we look at our bid, maybe we’ll get some of those carriers coming back into the market that provide light jet service,” Vrabel said. “We’re looking at those, and we’re optimistic.”

Vrabel also said they would like to find a carrier outside the EAS program that could offer services to popular destinations in the future.

“What about seasonal service, something beyond EAS?” Vrabel asked. “And they’re very interested in doing that too, so we may get something like a non-stop flight from here to Myrtle Beach or from here to possibly even something like Orlando.”