MARTINSBURG - After nearly a two-year absence because of runway construction, the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport's instrument landing system is now back.
That's important because it makes the airport more functional and could potentially increase the number of planes that land there, said Airport Manager Bill Walkup.
"We're talking about the instrument landing system for the prime runway, which is a series of antennas that allows a pilot and an airplane to land during inclement weather, when visibility and conditions are poor," Walkup said, speaking before Wednesday's monthly Airport Authority meeting.
"The system's been out of service for about two years due to the fact that we've had pieces of runway, pieces of the system itself missing, and we've also had large obstructions, mounds of dirt due to construction of the runway," he said. "But probably within the last three weeks, things have come back just about completely to normal and we're tweaking all the equipment."
Although the Federal Aviation Authority owns the antennas, it's the airport's responsibility to maintain the clear areas that go with the system, Walkup said.
Soon, the FAA will take the next step to inspect the airport's work, he said.
"The FAA will fly in an airplane with special instruments and test fly that system several times. They will then certify it is functional," Walkup said.
Walkup expects that to happen within 10 days to two weeks, according to a notice that he's already received from federal officials.
This improvement should increase the airport traffic by an estimated 12 to 15 percent, he said.
"In other words, that percentage of airplanes, especially corporate airplanes going up and down the Atlantic Coast, if they plug us in for a fuel stop or for whatever reason and they see that that instrument landing system is out of service - which they will see in the FAA system - they'll take us out of the equation and go to another field where they know they can make it during bad weather," Walkup said.
"But now we're going to be plugged back into the system, which is a big plus," he said.
Prior to the beginning of construction in early 2005, the airport had a combined operation - including both civilian and military -of 60,000 annually, Walkup said.
An operation is a take off, a landing or a touch-and-go, he said. "Basically it's something that uses the runway."
He said the number "dropped to well below 20,000 during the construction period," and he isn't sure what that amount will be once everything is back in operation.
Authority Chairman Rick Wachtel said he's eager for the airport's instrumentation to be "back up to speed" and agreed that this is an important step forward.
"When it was out, it was possible that some would avoid us. But with our instrumentation back up to full strength, they're more likely to come in, have lunch or refuel and use the services here. So it is definitely good for us," Wachtel said.