Roundtable gathering seeks solutions for viable air service

A roundtable meeting held Thursday, July 13, at the Visitors Center in Lewisburg, brought together two factions at odds over the Greenbrier County Airport Authority’s (GCAA) June 22 decision to rebid the Essential Air Service (EAS) contract.

At issue was ViaAir’s record of  unreliability and questionable safety, the position held by the GCAA and the Greenbrier County Commission, while concerns for disruptions to tourist travel, essential to the local economy, was the focus of the Greenbrier Valley Visitors Bureau (CVB), the The Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce and Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester.

The Greenbrier resort was also represented in the meeting by Greg Furlong, vice president of sales and event services, who was influential in moving the dial toward the GCAA’s position by urging to rebid the contract. “Via has not fulfilled their promises,” he said. “We’re ready to move forward.”

“We have a way to go forward, but we need the support of the community,” said GCAA president Lowell Johnson, addressing the CVB. “Without your support, a rebid of the contract creates doubt for the Department of Transportation (DOT), which delays any rebid action.

Johnson said Via took on too much and over-extended itself. “It’s going to cost them,” he said, “and may even end their business.”

Furlong asked that the Greenbrier have a voice in selecting the hub airports to fly to. “Plain and simple,” he said, “Greenbrier Valley Airport (GVA) is a deficit unless the right airports are secured.”

Sharon Rowe, who is on the board of both the CVB and the Chamber of Commerce, said, “It is incumbent on the community, because tourism is the number one driver of the area economy, that the Greenbrier have a voice in this discussion.” The gathering agreed to form an advisory group of community leaders to report to the GCAA.

Those parties most worried at the loss of tourist business voiced concerns that Via’s service might worsen after the rebid process begins. Commissioner Mike McClung then brought up ongoing safety issues surrounding ViaAir, a far more concerning issue not previously shared with the public. Lawsuits have already been filed against ViaAir in other states, GVA manager Stephen Snyder said.

Manchester took a middle ground approach and suggested waiting one month before requesting a rebid from DOT to allow Via one last chance to make good on their promise for a ticket and baggage claim contract with American Airlines. Commissioner Woody Hanna said the gathering needs to digest the information discussed, and if the CVB and Manchester are agreed to the rebid process, he asked that they submit in writing indicating their formal position for the action.

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