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Improved radar coming to regional airport

December 18, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Major improvements are planned for the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in the coming year, although regularly scheduled commercial air service is not yet on the radar screen.

Among those improvements is a $21 million air surveillance radar that is now undergoing testing, said William E. Walkup, airport manager and administrator. He told the Berkeley County Commission Thursday that the system is scheduled to be certified for service in June or July.

Walkup said Dulles International Airport in Virginia controls the airspace at the Martinsburg location and at the regional airports in Hagerstown and Winchester, Va. The problem is that the radar there can't see below 3,000 feet because of the mountains.

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"This will give to-the-ground surveillance" for air traffic controllers, improving safety and traffic flow during foul weather, Walkup said of the new radar. It will be a major boost for airports throughout the Shenandoah Valley, he said.

Walkup told the commission that the airport has received word from the West Virginia Division of Highways that it will complete Industrial Park Road, which now ends near the Sino Swearingen plant. That will create a loop road that connects to U.S. 11.

Walkup said the road will put the airport within six minutes of Interstate 81. It also will provide an avenue for additional utility services to the airport, including sewer, water, gas and fiber optics, Walkup said.

The Division of Highways should have the project ready for bids early next year, he said.

Walkup told the commission he expects TLM Aerospace will be ready to advertise for bids on its 30,000-square-foot plant by next spring. The Taiwanese company plans to build a $15 million plant to build single-engine aircraft.

Sino Swearingen, another Taiwanese company, will begin moving equipment into its plant in late winter or early spring, according to Walkup. The company expects to begin producing twin-engine corporate jets in 1999.

The one element missing is shuttle service to a major airport or regularly scheduled service from the airport, Walkup said.

Earlier in the week he attended an air carrier transportation summit hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Gov. Cecil Underwood.

Walkup said the airport has not been served by a carrier since 1971 and "air carrier service has been diminishing in the state for a number of years." Most airline passengers, he said, prefer driving to major airports, making shuttle service costly for the airlines.

He told the commission that the most likely avenue for air service from the airport would be from there to Charleston, W.Va., and other major cities within the state.

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