CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four years, four months and four days after the hillside collapsed at Yeager Airport in Charleston the emergency stopping system that was damaged and replaced was commissioned for use.
U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, Gov. Jim Justice, the Kanawha County Commission and others were on hand for a ceremony Friday afternoon moved indoors because of the excessive heat.
You could almost see Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre breathing a sigh of relief with the completion of the project.
“It’s over with,” Sayre said referring to the four long years at Yeager since the collapse. “Today it’s done and today we’ll move forward with all of these other projects and we’re excited to do that.”
The stopping system, called EMAS, stops planes if they fail to stop before the end of the roadway. A standard EMAS installation can stop an aircraft from overrunning the runway at approximately 80 miles per hour, the airport said.
Yeager didn’t have the money to replace it after the devastating 2015 collapse. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said early on the prospects to obtain the funding weren’t good.
“When we first met with Senator Capito and Senator Manchin it looked pretty dismal,” Carper said. “There were problems with the funding. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) understandably wouldn’t redo the funding. They said they wouldn’t pay for things twice.”
The congressional delegation then took another route. Getting the $13 million in funding included in a piece of legislation in 2017. Carper said former Congressman Evan Jenkins led the way in the U.S. House and Capito and Manchin in the Senate. That funding needed a $3 million match and that’s when Carper said he went to see Gov. Jim Justice.
“We explained to him just how serious this problem was and he said, ‘I will help you,'” Carper said it was the key to completing the project.
Justice said it was an easy decision to make.
“I was really proud to be able to be the guy who said, ‘Do it!'” Justice recalled. “Here’s the bottom line to everything, the airport in your community fuels everything.”
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin echoed those comments.
“As the mayor of this Capital City, you cannot have a thriving and vibrant city without a thriving and vibrant airport. It just can’t happen,” she said.
Senators Capito and Manchin are frequent users of Yeager. Capito said the Word Scout Jamboree that begins Monday at the Bechtel Summit in Fayette County serves as a good example as to why the EMAS had to be replaced.
“If we didn’t have full out safety. If we couldn’t give the airlines and the pilots and everything that this airport is as safe as it can be and will be, I’d dare say we would not be having the traffic and the vitality of business we have coming into the airport,” Capito said.
Manchin, a pilot, said the value of the EMAS cannot be understated.
“Knowing that we’re able to have an airport with all the modern technology that it takes to keep us safe is key for Charleston,” Manchin said.
Gov. Justice had another funding announcement to make Friday. He said the state would provide $2 million for a stand-alone Customs building at Yeager, which he said would help make Yeager an international gateway.
“We found the money in the Infrastructure Fund in the Infrastructure Jobs Development Council. We found the money and we’re going to build the Customs building,” Justice said.