Morgantown leaders look for state support for runway extension project

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown City Council is hoping for state support for the city’s airport runway extension project.

Morgantown Municipal Airport Director Jonathon Vrabel made his case on Tuesday to Senators Mike Oliverio (R-Monongalia, 13), Mike Caputo (D-Marion, 13), Delegates Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia, 79), Anitra Hamilton (D-Monongalia, 81), and Joe Statler (R-Monongalia, 77).

Vrabel said the current 5,199-foot runway could be partially blamed for the loss of the Mylan Pharmaceutics manufacturing facility. About 10 years ago, they moved their aircraft to the Pittsburgh area because the Morgantown runway was not long enough, and shortly after, they moved their research and development facility from Morgantown to Connellsville.

“Maybe Mylan would still be here; it’s hard to say that would really affect it, but it could have,” Vrabel said. “That’s the kind of economic development that airports do and that we provide.”

Vrabel asked lawmakers to arrange a meeting with Governor Justice in order to request $20 million in funding.

Vrabel told lawmakers that having money from any source for the project will make it easier to secure additional funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We really need support from the governor’s office. I know the governor has helped a lot of other communities in our state, particularly airports,” Vrabel said. “We provided significant amounts of funding, and we have yet to get any funding from the state.”

Delegate Joe Statler said he would arrange a meeting but would like them to meet with Senior Advisor to the Governor, Larry Pack, first. Senator Mike Caputo also suggested a meeting with Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael.

“You need a short and concise history of what you’re going to do,” Statler said. “These guys are busy just like everybody else; you can’t run them around the patch; you have to run them straight to it.”

Vrabel told lawmakers that Morgantown Municipal Airport is the busiest in the state, with about 55,000 operations per year, and has the shortest commercial runway in the state. The runway can handle some larger aircraft, but as weather conditions deteriorate, the size of aircraft that can land is reduced.

“Our runway is grooved, so it has high braking ability,” Vrabel said. “But, even with that, the weather changes the way the aircraft performs, so the aircraft can no longer land on that short of a runway.”

Extending the runway to 6,200 feet will make the airport usable for a greater variety of aircraft. The fill operation that will complete the runway extension will also open the I-68 Commerce Park. Opening the new commerce park will bring new economic development opportunities and possibly new aircraft tenants to the airport. The park could open as early as 2026 if funding levels allow.

“If we want to bring in passenger service with a 737-sized airplane, we’ll need that full 6,200 feet because it needs that length to operate,” Vrabel said.