Wheeling-Ohio County Airport
a gateway to a thriving region
Key Partnerships in aerospace and education cruise Wheeling-Ohio County Airport to higher altitudes
The aviation industry has regained traction over the last year and flight numbers tell the story. Meeting the demands of an industry that has more than bounced back after a slow journey through COVID, is no easy task; only the airports that are prioritizing key initiatives while sticking to their operation upgrading plans can truly capture this momentum.
Although classed as a General Aviation Airport which means there is no scheduled service flying in and out, Wheeling-Ohio County Airport is clearly driving economic change in Wheeling-Ohio County, West Virginia. This is attributed in large part to the airport’s role with local industry, flight training as well as cargo and medical flights that position it as the gateway to this thriving aviation, industrial and commercial hub.
An economic engine for the County
First founded in 1946 and beginning its first passenger flights in 1947, the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport has stood the test of time as a reliable air service provider.
The airport has two runways spanning 5,000 feet and 4,500 feet, respectively. It has remained promptly updated on its maintenance standards, completing two projects involving seal coat crack repair, asphalt patching, and repainting this year alone.
The airport also secures convenient amenities for its pilots and technicians. It provides free Wi-Fi, a snack and food area, and an FOB, providing a consistent supply of Jet A, 100 low lead fuel, and ground power units.
The airport remains firmly tapped into the daily operations of the various companies conducting business around the area. There is a large presence of commercial retail, manufacturing, and natural energy providers. So, leading companies like Form Energy, Mon Power, Appalachian Power, and Rural King all send aircraft through the airport as part of their normal operations.
According to Airport Manager Russell Escue, Wheeling-Ohio County Airport also handles many private aircraft traffic sent in by charter companies, saying, “some days the ramps are full… [there’s] no indication of what the day’s going to bring… If something is going on in Wheeling, like a meeting or a big convention, that will bring people in,” he says, commenting on the dynamic nature of the airport’s daily traffic.
In addition to commercial traffic, the runways are frequented by local hospitals that use them for medical evac.
So, with such a diversity of aircraft moving through the runways, it only makes sense that Escue prioritizes maintenance standards and proper conditions to accommodate the airport’s patrons.
Innovative Advancements in Sustainable Technologies
With such a wide range of institutions using Wheeling-Ohio County Airport for business, there remains a large opportunity for collaboration among those commuting parties. The pleasant results of such collaborations have already emerged within the area.
Chief Development Officer Kevin Price for aviation, who works for the Regional Economic Development Partnership (RED), expounded on this sentiment, saying, “new technology is coming quickly… especially with things like eVTOL, which stands for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. That technology… it’s here.”
Price predicts that eVTOL technology will make a big “splash” on the West Virginia market over the next 24 months.
To put the mainstream holding power of eVTOL tech into perspective, current small charter aircraft–like King aircraft or large corporate helicopters– cost about $1,500 – $1,800 an hour to operate. However, the current eVTOL aircraft coming onto the market will have the same passenger capacity with only a $500 per hour price point to operate.
The massive gap in the operational costs between the two technologies is extraordinarily sustainable. According to Price, “you’re going to see that really open up the charter world quite a bit and really make a big difference in the state of West Virginia.”
The advance signals growth for the charter sector and a surplus of opportunities for the region as a whole, as the current cutting-edge presents a new demand for research, development, and component manufacturing.
For the area’s residents, that means a massive influx of new jobs and a growing need for training and industry expertise. So, Wheeling-Ohio County Airport has been collaborating with local universities to supply the future demand before it even arrives.
Shaping the Future Through Education
To meet the current and upcoming needs of aerospace-related jobs, Wheeling-Ohio Count Airport has established a partnership with Marshall University and West Liberty University.
The two universities have created a new, joint aviation program called the Bill Noe Flight School that aims to meet the nation’s projected need for commercial pilots, mechanics, and crew members over the next 20 years.
Fortunately, the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport sits reliably as the program’s foundation, as its students will use its facilities to undergo the program’s curriculum.
This program allows students to gain hands-on experience with general aviation, component manufacturing, or final aircraft assembly, depending on their interests.
On its own, Marshall University has an Aircraft Maintenance Technician program that will be coming to the Wheeling Airport in addition to its partnership with West Liberty.
Additionally, Marshall University created a brand new School of Aviation with a four-year professional flight program and a two-year Aircraft Maintenance Technician program that has already drawn the attention of legacy airlines like Delta and American.
Price states that airlines are partnering with universities like Marshall and West Liberty, and “if the students want to fly commercially… they’re offering incentives like full tuition. And if [the students] agree to work for them for two years, they pay off their tuition.”
This grants students an incredible chance to not only gain top-notch education but to do so while graduating debt-free with the bonus of having a two-year job guaranteed the instant they finish.
And this doesn’t even factor in the incentives revolving around other non-trade programs like aviation business management.
Ultimately, this means two amazing things. There’s now a direct route toward filling the aerospace industry’s growing job demand. And West Virginia, as the state, now has a durable anchor to hold on to as it grows as an industry leader and creator of local and non-local jobs.
And all of this has been facilitated by the presence of one critical entity: The Wheeling-Ohio County Airport.
A gateway to Industry advancements
However, the advancements don’t end there, as Wheeling-Ohio County Airport’s strong presence within its state has also triggered the emergence of a new industry sector for West Virginia to potentially pioneer.
This results from synergy between newly developing technologies and the state’s already established presence as a natural gas provider.
Just as eVTOL tech is changing the playing field for charter aircraft, there are also “a lot of new technologies out there to create sustainable aviation fuels,” says Price, hinting at the compatibility of this new efficient tech and West Virginia’s abundance of natural resources.
Much of that technology is based on natural gas and hydrogen, resources the state is already exploring via its already built-out production facilities. With the pace of development and the extent of potential regarding sustainability there is much potential for growth in this area.
Price teases the possibility, saying, “there is a huge [chance] for West Virginia to be able to take those technologies and become a nationwide leader in sustainable aviation fuels; who knows?”
A Diamond in the Rough
Based on the decisive moves and investments Wheeling-Ohio County Airport and its partnered institutions have made, it’s pretty clear who knows.
The biggest takeaway is a clear message from the Airport conveyed by both Price and Escue.
“We want to be the biggest contributors to the overall economic impact of the area.”
So far, they have followed through immensely on those words and are poised to do so in bigger and bolder ways in the future.
With the airport’s optimal geographic location, the state’s surplus of raw materials, and the chain reaction of new, emerging technologies and industries, the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport is undoubtedly one of the most integral components to the success of West Virginia as a whole.
Amazingly enough, it made all of this progress seemingly under the radar. But as time passes and the mainstream eye becomes increasingly aware of who is behind these incredible gains, the airport’s efforts are sure to earn an exclusive and, hopefully, permanent spotlight as one of the nation’s trailblazing aerospace establishments.
AT A GLANCE
Wheeling-Ohio County Airport
What: An innovative airport establishing its presence as an economic driver and industry pioneer through sustainable technology and thoughtful partnerships
Where: West Virginia