North Central WV Aerospace Industry Continues to Rise | WV News



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BRIDGEPORT – The aerospace industry in the Midwest of Virginia continues to grow and expand – adding more jobs, opportunities and businesses to an economic sector that already has more than $ 1 billion in annual economic impact in the region.

In addition to the thriving North Central West Virginia airport, the region's aerospace industry includes companies both large and small. Among them are some of the world's leading aviation names, such as Bombardier, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney.

Ron Watson, chairman of the airport's governing body, Benedum Airport Authority, said he remains impressed by the rapid growth of the local aerospace industry.

"I think we're looking for bigger and better things at the airport," he said. "We are doing well and with the 2,000 jobs we have there, plus an economic impact of more than $ 1 billion, I think 2019 will explode and we will get even better."

While he said he could not discuss the details, airport officials are in negotiations with other companies that are considering moving to airport ownership, Watson said.

"We are already looking at other companies possibly coming in," he said. "We are here rushing and marketing and telling our story."

The latest company to call the airport property is Chesapeake Bay Helicopters.

The national commercial helicopter company, which specializes in public services, began operating a satellite base at Bridgeport Airport in March.

Justin Prickett, one of the Chesapeake pilots, said the company offers a wide range of services.

"We are primarily a utility company. We work with inspections of electrical lines and pipes. We do a lot of 3D aerial mapping, "he said. "We're also a 135 operator, which means we can carry passengers, so we do a bit of that, too."

The company's base in West Virginia was previously at Yeager Airport in Charleston, Prickett said.

"Most of our customers are based in this area. There's a lot of pipeline and power line stuff that's based off of here, "he said.

"It was kind of obvious for us to come in that direction," he said.

Chesapeake has a relationship with the Airframe Solutions Worldwide aviation repair company, which is also based at the airport, Prickett said.

"They are my longtime friends," he said. "The other day we had a little problem that needed fixing. And usually, if you do not have someone present on the spot who can handle it, you stay away for a few days. But it was 15 minutes later, and they were there with all the equipment to fix it. "

The airport's central location has made it perfect for the company, said Winston Chelf, chief operating officer of Chesapeake and chief pilot.

"We simply love the hospitality of the people in the area. There is a great value provided through all the amenities that are just minutes from the airport, and for us, our staff and our clientele, the change made sense, "he said. "The NCWV (Airport) team has been more than accommodating as we seek to change operations. They really went out of their way to help us. "

Chesapeake Bay Helicopters brings diversification to the growing portfolio of aerospace-related companies around the airport, said director Rick Rock.

"We have helicopter traffic and we have worked with some in the past, but this is the first time, certainly in my mandate, that we had a helicopter presence at the airport," he said.

Airport managers are making progress on another project that aims to attract more companies to the airport property, which is the Benedum Logistics Park.

The park, which will be built on five acres southeast of the runway, will be built in one building at a time and may contain up to five structures of 20,000 square feet or less.

Funding for the initial development of the site, including the construction of a utility access and installation road, as well as the construction of the first building, will be partially funded by a US $ 1.7 million grant from the US Economic Development Administration which the airport received in November.

The donation will provide about 80% of the funds for the first phase of the project, and the Benedum Airport Authority will provide the remaining 20%, or $ 426,000.

A 10-year estimate, based on the park's full potential at its peak, shows that the park could support up to 340 jobs and could generate up to $ 8 million in additional private investments.

The development will allow a new class of smaller aerospace companies, such as suppliers, to call the airport home that could work alongside and provide ancillary services to current tenants of Benedum Industrial Park, Rock said.

"I think it's exciting that this broadens the capabilities of companies that support the aerospace industry," he said. "Most of the aerospace industry does not necessarily have access to the runway. There are many companies that can enter and that can support our existing companies, be it Bombardier or Pratt & Whitney. "

The emphasis on smaller companies will allow startups and younger companies to be part of the local aerospace industry, Rock said.

"This gives an opportunity for entrepreneurship to take place at the airport, and we hope to inspire those who are there to grow and think outside their current realm, and that shows that we want to be part of the complex," he said. . "These five acres are there, and we've made it a priority in our planning and we think it's a great use of the property."

Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang, who is a member of the Authority and a member of the Special Projects Committee, said the plan for the park was developed in response to feedback from current airport tenants.

"Every time we visited people – Bombardier, EASW (Engine Airframe Solutions Worldwide), Pratt and Whitney, Aurora – all the answers were that there was not enough room here and they wished there was some space where they could. try to grow your business, "he said. "Whether to store equipment, off-site manufacturing, for outside repair work, there is not enough room in our facility."

Tracy Miller, president of the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, the organization responsible for aerospace industry promotion in the region, said the park's construction is a long-term project that will provide opportunities for small businesses in West Virginia.

"This is for smaller suppliers. These are the people who are doing business with our world-renowned companies, "she said. "See where Boeing is, look where Lockheed Martin is, see where Bombardier is and see where Pratt & Whitney is. These four companies exist in Harrison County, and there are opportunities for existing suppliers who are already working with them, and work with these companies continues to grow and there are more opportunities on the horizon. "

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