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MCAA Board hears status of pavement completion of access road,

Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) March 07, 2022

The Mingo County Airport Authority Board of Directors heard reports regarding the current status of two separate federal funding opportunities that, if approved, will go toward paving the remainder of the Southern West Virginia Regional Airport access road as well as initiate the development of Advance Air Mobility technologies (AAM) there.

Mingo County Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Leasha Johnson gave the reports during the MCAA’s regular meeting last week.

Johnson first related the possibility of the airport being approved for $3.3 million Congressional Directed Spending money last October, which she said at the time, had been specifically submitted to both U.S. senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin for consideration as a viable funding for the completion of the access road.

During last week’s meeting, Johnson said the CDS appropriation that would complete construction of the access road has since passed both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reviews and is on tap to be included in the final Congressional appropriations (budget) bill.

“The final bill has not yet been approved, and there have been three continuing resolutions (CR) to date,” she explained. A ‘CR’ is a temporary measure to fund government activities for a limited amount of time until the final appropriations bill is passed.”

Johnson said the next step would in all probability be passage of the final appropriations bill.

“If the appropriations bill is passed within the next month, we might expect the funding to be available, pending finalization of award documents by the FAA, by July or August,” she said.

Regarding the development of Advance Air Mobility at the airport, Johnson said the possibility comes via the Build Back Better initiative and the U. S. Department of Economic Development.

Should the project come to fruition, she said a large collaborative of partners would be given the funding needed to attract, develop, and expand industry in coal-impacted regions.

She said the MCRA was invited to participate in three different collaborative groups by the West Virginia Department of Economic Development in its cluster development that supports supply chain resiliency and sector growth regarding both national and economic security.

A very promising collaboration for the MCRA/SWRA, and as part of the grant application that, if approved, would fund the development and attraction of new sectors such as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) technologies, she said.

“This technology based economic development project utilizes West Virginia’s natural mountainous terrain surrounding a reclaimed mine site and KEBD airport to create a first-of-its-kind fully instrumented testing, education, and training environment,” she said.

Johnson said the West Virginia Advanced Air Mobility Observation Lab (WVAAMO) will be connected digitally to Marshall University and WVU Tech and will be used to advance the development of the emerging AAM industry.

AAM, she explained, is specifically the utilization of drones and electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicles for use in healthcare, first responders, recreational, commercial, and military applications, as well as cargo and passenger operations.

The AMM, which the MCRA is proposing to build at the SWRA, would consist of a “systems in systems approach,” meaning the this type of testing equipment would in turn consist of sensors, cameras, mini-communications towers on airport and surrounding properties private sector companies and even the military can come to test the air-worthiness of their technology.

“This would put us on the cutting edge of integrating these new advanced air mobility technologies into commercial and military uses,” she said. “But what they’re also integrating into it are virtual control towers.”

Because these companies would come here to do their testing to get FAA approval and certification, Johnson said an operations center in which to do the testing would be required.

“So the operations center is a physical building that can also serve as a terminal building, in our case we would build a two-story building which would be a traditional terminal building on the lower floor and the upstairs would be the operations and control center for this AAM lab,” Johnson said.

The operations center would also be used as a training and education center.

“Marshall University’ flight school has expressed an interest in having a remote tower and a remote command center at Marshall, so that while testing is going on here the students at Marshall can observe this testing,” she said.

Johnson said the total dollar amount for the grant application is approximately $12 million, which besides the AMM project would also include other components such as cyber security and workforce training in coal-impacted southern West Virginia counties.

“This can be transformative for Mingo County and the region because not only will it create an opportunity for us to attract more companies here, and we’ll have the educational and training opportunities for our students, but eventually as a downstream opportunity, we’ll also have companies set up here to work on these various technologies,” she said.


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