2019 was a year for the ages at Yeager Airport. We had almost 500,000 passengers come through CRW. That was a five percent increase from 2018 and an 11 percent increase from 2017. We went into 2020 with a full head of steam, ready to tackle some major projects around the airport. Then everything changed in March of 2020.
Businesses shut down, finding a can of Lysol wipes meant you won the lottery, and the traveling came to a halt. What started as a two-week quarantine went on for months. The airport felt like a ghost town, and it seemed like there was no end in sight.
On The Road To Recovery
Fast forward to today, and we are on the road to recovery. Masks are commonplace, social distancing is the new norm, and the vaccines are continuing to roll out across the country. The travel industry is making a comeback.
West Virginians do not give up, and neither does Yeager Airport. Even with passenger numbers down near single digits in 2020, we moved forward with many different construction and improvement projects. Working with our forward thinking board of members, we decided the airport would not need to play catch-up when passengers came back.
Yeager Airport Projects
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School. If you have been to the airport viewing area recently, you can see just how fast this building is going up. Both the school building and hangar are on schedule to be ready for students in August 2021. Before the pandemic, there was already a pilot shortage, and with travel ramping back up over the next several years, the demand for pilots is only going to grow. I am excited that Yeager Airport, partnering with Marshall University, will be putting pilots into the air travel continue to rise.
Post-Security Restaurant. Our post-security gift shop and restaurant, The Junction, got a much-needed facelift in 2020. It now looks like something you would see in a hub airport. We are extremely proud of the experience we can now offer passengers while waiting for their flights.
Planning for the future. With the addition of the flight school, an increase in military presence at CRW, and traveling numbers bouncing back, we are designing future projects. In the next couple of years, we plan on remodeling the restrooms in the main terminal, replacing the public address system and signage, and replace a passenger boarding bridge. We are also planning more aircraft parking aprons and hangars.
Customs Building. The ground has been broken, and footers have been poured for the United States Customs and Border Protection Facility. Once this facility is built, it will allow international general aviation passengers to stop at Yeager Airport to clear customs before proceeding to their final destination. This will be another great way to diversify revenue streams at CRW.
There are several projects in the pipeline at CRW, including bathroom renovations and upgrading the pre-security restaurant and checkpoint area.
Changing The Way We Clean
The pandemic also provided us an opportunity to look at how we clean the airport. Our goal was always to provide the cleanest facilities possible for our passengers, and I believe we did that pre-pandemic. However, we have now gone a step further. All of the air ducts at the airport have been professionally cleaned, all of the air conditioning vents have been replaced, and UV-C lights were placed in vents to help clean and filter the air.
Our cleaning staff, who have been tremendous during COVID-19, put together a schedule to ensure high touch point areas were being cleaned at least four times a day. In some cases, like the TSA Checkpoint, we had cleaning personnel dedicated to only cleaning that area.
2020 was a rough year for everyone. April 15th, 2020, 15 people flew out of Yeager Airport. 15 passengers was a tough pill to swallow. But our confidence and dedicated team of employees never wavered. We weathered the storm, and now I believe we have come through the other side. We are not back to pre-pandemic numbers. That will take some time, but we are on the right track. West Virginians don’t quit, and neither does Yeager Airport.