BRIDGEPORT — North Central West Virginia Airport is on pace to see a record number of passengers by the end of the year, according to officials.

Projections show more than 45,000 passengers will have utilized the airport throughout 2019, surpassing the 35,000 passengers who traveled through its gates in 2018, said Airport Director Rick Rock.

While the airport was struggling to meet minimum passenger quotas as recently as five years ago — 2017 saw just 23,000 emplacements — 2018 was the first year since 1978 that it served more than 35,000 passengers, Rock said.

The continued success can be attributed to the airport’s ongoing marketing campaign and the offerings of its two major carriers, Rock said.

“I think one, we had the highest awareness of the airport ever reached. We always knew that the best part of marketing is people actually getting to use it, having a great experience and then telling all their friends,” he said. “With two great partners in United and Allegiant, they have been very reliable. When you have consistently good service and good quality, the word gets out and people feel confident in using it.”

According to the findings of a study performed by Volaire Aviation Consulting released in August, the airport’s annual regional economic impact has grown by more than $50 million over the past five years.

The airport’s total annual economic output is $1.1 billion, with approximately 98 percent of that related to “non-airline” activity.

There are 1,481 on-airport full-time equivalent positions with a labor income of $111.3 million annually. Its air service supports 43 on-airport full-time equivalent positions with $2.15 million in annual payroll.

If the airport and the surrounding aerospace-related businesses were considered a single employer, it would be the sixth largest in the region, according to the study.

A previous study, conducted by Sixel Consulting Group in 2014, showed $1.05 billion in annual economic impact.

At the time of the 2014 study, the airport had 12,885 enplanements per year.

Ron Watson, president of the Benedum Airport Authority, the governing body of the airport, said airport administrators and officials deserve some of the credit for its success.

“Several years ago, we were having issues not only with enplanements, but also with keeping the lights on at the airport. We got a little creative and did some out-of-the-box, progressive thinking,” he said. “I think that’s where it all started. We’ve built to the point that we’re at today, and we’re not done.”

Watson cited recent projects at the airport, such the planned Benedum Logistics Park, a commercial development planned for a five-acre plot on the property, as evidence of the airport’s continued growth.

Rock said he hopes the airport will continue to see record passenger numbers in years to come.

“I think we’ll just keep growing. I think we just keep riding the momentum, growing (flight) frequencies and additional terms and in the busy seasons we will continue to fill planes,” he said. “We’re about at the maximum capacity of our terminal right now, but I believe that 50,000 (emplacements) and beyond is certainly going to be our goal going forward.”

The airport must continue to get the needs and desires of the flying public at the forefront of operations if this goal is to be reached, Rock said.

“If we offer things that the community wants, and things stay the way the are, it can only go up from here,” he said.

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