Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg is in the midst of a $21 million upgrade and a return to profitability.
The construction list includes a recently completed $6.6 million runway overrun project and a $4.5 million terminal and parking lot renovation that is nearing completion. A $4 million runway project is under construction and work will soon begin on a $6 million taxiway project.
Manager Jerry O'Sullivan said the facility is essentially a new airport.
"The old building is still here, but I would challenge anyone to find it," said Sullivan, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who has been at the helm of GVA for 18 years. "There's a new roof, new floors, new bathrooms and an expanded holding room. There's a parking lot addition and a new parking lot.
"When we finish the new taxiway (in November), this entire airport will have been literally rebuilt."
The bulk of airport construction projects are funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA generally provides 95 percent of the money with the remaining 5 percent coming from local sources.
Original plans at Lewisburg were for a $1 million facelift to the terminal. The project grew to $4 million, however, with the availability of federal stimulus money, infrastructure assistance from the FAA and support from the Greenbrier County Airport Authority.
"Terminals are not a huge project with the FAA," O'Sullivan said. "It's like we were planning for a $1 million project and then ended up with $4 million. It's been an amazing project and very exciting."
O'Sullivan said the building is somewhat of a replica of a structure at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
"I've spent so much time in airports over the years," he said. "I wanted to build a place that is what an airport should be like."
With arrivals on commercial flights daily from two major eastern airports, O'Sullivan said passengers have a standard of expectation. More than half of those landing in Lewisburg are destined for The Greenbrier, an upscale resort in nearby White Sulphur Springs.
"The New York and Atlanta crowds are hard to impress, but they like it," he said. "It's the nicest in West Virginia."
With considerable revenue produced by private and corporate jet traffic, the airport's financial success has a close correlation to that of the resort. GVA's 40-year history of profit-making halted in 2009 when The Greenbrier dealt with ownership uncertainties and concerns about a labor agreement.
Passenger traffic dipped to 4,400 during 2009, but increased to 12,500 in 2010, an increase of 184 percent.
"We'll be up from that again this year," O'Sullivan predicted. "We're doing very well. We're considering additional flights."
The comeback began shortly after Jim Justice acquired the resort and implementing improvements, such as an underground casino. It was Justice who personally negotiated a deal with Delta Airlines, according to O'Sullivan.
"He deserves a lot of credit," he said of Justice. "He's a tremendous supporter of the airport and a user of the airport. I credit him for having the vision. The magnitude of Jim Justice's commitment cannot be overstated."
O'Sullivan said GVA has added passengers from a broader region as airports in Homestead, Va., Bluefield and Elkins eliminated commercial service in recent years. Raleigh County Memorial Airport in Beckley offers commercial flights to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., via United Express.
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