BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — After much anticipation, the new essential air service of North Central West Virginia airport is off the ground, offering daily flights to Chicago and Washington, D.C.
SkyWest’s inaugural flight was celebrated at the North Central West Virginia Airport on Wednesday before the first flight left for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport — an event Airport Director Rick Rock describes as monumental.
“Our regular schedule comes in, we’ll depart to Washington-Dulles at 6:10, and then it will come back around noon and we’ll depart again at 2:25 to Chicago. Then we’ll just roll into a daily schedule with two great hubs,” Rock said. “It’s just a very historic day when the North Central West Virginia Aiport goes to all jet services.”
Not only does the addition of SkyWest add new destinations to those traveling via the North Central West Virginia Aiport, Rock said the airline is a well-respected daily-service carrier that goes above and beyond his expectations.
“They’re well-known. They’re well established. The fleet of aircraft is 400 plus. That’s the most exciting thing,” he said. “Before we be excited about our destinations and whatnot, to have a partner like this, one that you know is committed to excellence, is what makes me the most excited.”
Given North Central West Virginia Airport’s history with ViaAir, Rock said having a reliable airline was of utmost importance.
“Air travel is air travel, but people expect something to be there and they book their flights on time,” he said. “We’ve just never had this opportunity, so it’s really exciting for me to know that when a plane’s supposed to be there, it will be there.”
Prior to Wednesday’s takeoff, the closest airport that provided flights to Chicago was Pittsburgh International Airport.
“And you get basically the same service in Pittsburgh that we can provide here,” Rock said. “We know that 90 percent of the people from this region, when they’re going to the airport, they’re generally going to Pittsburgh, and we’re hoping to be able to reduce that. We want to reverse that leakage as much as possible and create opportunities here in West Virginia.”
Rock foresees SkyWest’s addition being an economic engine, creating tremendous opportunities for North Central West Virginia.
He said economic development groups in the region have already discussed the impact that SkyWest could provide and are now thinking ahead.
“They’re saying, ‘Now that we have this what can we do?'” Rock said. “All the different projects going around, the need for people, there’s a lot of jobs, and we just need people to fill them. If we just get people back to West Virginia, I think we can solve a lot of problems.”
In addition to the new airline itself, the North Central West Virginia Airport has also experienced changes inside of the terminal.
“Once they came in and did their site visits, we were able go through and just do some cosmetics and some projects to get us ready and add to all of our capabilities, whether it be our infrastructure, communications or just the asthetics of our ticket counter. It looks a lot better,” Rock said.
Staff also received new uniforms and put long hours into training for the new carrier.
“I’m very proud of the efforts they’ve put on over the last five weeks,” Rock said. “Our team is all working together and functinoing as one trying to create a positive outcome that hopefully the whole region will enjoy.”
Rock said the staff underwent 10 hours of training daily for 10 days, learning the new systems of SkyWest and honing their customer service.
“It’s a unique situation for us to be able to provide that service, so we want to make sure that we do well and create opportunities for those who fall behind,” he said. “We’re willing to put ourselves out there and do everything we can to earn their business.”