Mercer Co. Airport aerial

BLUEFIELD — Federal stimulus money helping airports maintain themselves during the coronavirus pandemic is helping fund a project which will let larger aircraft refuel day and night at the Mercer County Airport.

The Mercer County Airport advertised Tuesday in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph for contractors interested in bidding on a project for expanding the airport’s main apron, or ramp, near its existing fuel farm.

“We’re extending it down to the fuel farm so larger aircraft can get down there,” Airport Manager Clint Ransom said Wednesday. “Currently when aircraft go down to the fuel farm they have to turn around, and larger planes don’t have enough room to turn around.”

Ramp space now lets only single-engine airplanes, helicopters and smaller twin-engine aircraft reach the fuel farm. Larger aircraft are now refueled from a tanker truck.

“We’d like to get it to where it can accommodate the larger twin-engines and small jets,” Ransom said. “Currently, we have full-service fuel where we fuel with the trucks and we have self-service pumps that work like a service station. After hours, (larger aircraft) can’t get down to the self-service pumps. After this, they will be able to fuel 24 hours a day at the fuel farm.”

Federal funding is helping to pay for the project.

“One thing interesting about this project is with the CARES (Coronavirus Air, Relief, and Economic Security) act it (the project) will qualify for a 100-percent federal grant so it won’t require a local or a state grant if it’s approved by the FAA,” Ransom said. “Normally, we have to make a 5 percent grant and the state has to make 5 percent.”

“That bill had as much as $10 billion set aside for airports,” he said. “We qualify for the $100 million for airports our size.”

U.S. Sen, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Wednesday that $9,398,776 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for airports across West Virginia through the Coronavirus Air, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) which was signed March 27 by President Trump.

“West Virginia airports are vital to the state’s economy which is being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding will allow West Virginia’s airports to maintain operations and payroll, continue paying down debts, complete existing projects, and move forward with new developments.” Manchin said. “This necessary economic relief will ensure our commercial and general aviation airports can continue to provide West Virginians and our visitors with access to our great state and other services. While I am pleased to see West Virginia receive this funding, we must work to ensure that rural states like West Virginia receive dedicated funding in the next emergency funding package.”

“Though the economic impact of this pandemic has been broad, perhaps no segment has been hit as hard as our air transportation system,” Capito stated. “Last weekend, less than 100,000 passengers across our entire country traveled via air. This has had ramifications across the industry, including our regional airports. Investing in our regional airports not only keeps our passengers and personnel safe, but it also fuels growth and boosts our economy. This funding is a critical investment from the DOT, and something I advocated for as we negotiated coronavirus relief. We must take the necessary steps to safeguard our airports and those who work there while we battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus his funding is an important step.”

The Mercer County Airport will receive $69,000, and the Raleigh County Airport will get $69,000, too, according to the senators’ announcement.

Ransom declined to name the ramp project’s exact cost because bids had not been received yet.

Other construction projects at the Mercer County Airport are continuing. New fences are being installed to help keep wildlife and trespassers off the runway.

“We’re currently finishing up our airport fencing project,” Ransom said, adding that weather conditions had delayed its completion. “It looks to be finished in the next two to three weeks. It will be around 13,000 feet (of fencing), about two and a half miles, something like that. It includes three new electric automatic fences. And another part of the project is brand-new LED lighting for the ramp.”

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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