The Mingo County Airport Authority has taken a major first step towards transitioning operations to the new Appalachian Regional Airport at Varney, as board members have set May 31 as the closing date for the old Mingo County Airport in Williamson.

Officials said this initial step was one of several necessary for the board to take if future funding from the FAA is to remain available for additional projects at the ARA.

During the MCAA’s regular meeting last week, the manager for the FAA’s field office in West Virginia, Matt DiGiulian, listed a few of the other steps awaiting the board.

Also attending the meeting were Sen. Joe Manchin’s Legislative Assistant Seth Gainer and Executive Development Representative Ryan Thorn, who expressed Manchin’s continued support for and assistance with the airport.

To date, DiGiulian said, the FAA has provided $9.7 million to the ARA project and that he feels the FAA has “stepped up to fulfill the request that the county and the Airport Authority has made of us.”

With the completion of the hangars, as well as the pavement having been installed to provide easy access to the hangars, currently the MCAA has everything it needs to be in place in order to make the transfer to the new airport, he said.

“That’s what we expect to happen next ... would be for this airport to close and the Airport Authority to go in full board and embrace the investment we made at your request,” he said.

“So that’s really the key of moving forward, as far as us being able to continue doing funding for additional projects.”

DiGiulian pointed out some of the other items that fall in the realm of compliance when determining further FAA funding.

In addition to closing the old airport, he said other required grant assurances include the county’s and MCAA’s ability to fund maintenance and projects on their own.

Another, he pointed out, is Grant Assurance 5, which he said preserves rights and powers.

“Grant Assurance number five stipulates the Airport Authority cannot sell or enter into a long-term lease or to use the property that is not aeronautical without our approval,” he said.

Board member Denver Stacy asked if this sale or lease stipulation would include an individual wanting to put a restaurant or a similar business somewhere on the property at some point in the future.

DiGiulian said that it would depend on certain specifics with regard to a project like a restaurant, such as ensuring that it wouldn’t be constructed on property where aeronautical development could go or interfere in any way with the daily operation of the airport.

He said a project like a maintenance facility, for example, would very much be representative of a development that would be acceptable and even welcomed by the FAA.

“Something like an aircraft maintenance facility would be a wonderful thing if someone wants to do that,” he said.

“But if something like a restaurant was proposed, I would advise you to call me and I will walk you through it and determine whether it would be feasible and acceptable (under Grant Assurance 5).”

Another grant assurance, DiGiulian said, will be runway preventative maintenance, particularly considering the size of the runway at the ARA.

“With the investment of the size of the runway comes the obligation that you’re going to be required to have some level of a preventative maintenance plan,” he said.

“With an airport and airport authority of this size, I think that for the most part it means someone is going to keep a very close eye on the condition of the runway…which means it would be someone’s responsibility at least a couple times a month going up there and check the condition of the runway and address anything that happens.”

DiGiulian said an accounting system/audit-book-keeping requirement is also considered a grant assurance for the MCAA, but that “probably the biggest and most applicable here is operations and maintenance.”

“You guys are required to operate the airport in a safe and efficient manner at all times and it’s supposed to be open for aviation at all times when there is not a safety issue,” he said. “…this is a big step you guys are taking, and my words to (Board Chairman Jeff Caldwell) were, ‘My hat’s off to you,’ for taking this on. It is a big obligation, it’s a big challenge ... but it’s also a big opportunity for Southern West Virginia, so I’m happy to be a partner with you guys in that.”

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