By Courtney D. Clark
Raleigh County Memorial Airport held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to celebrate new, nonstop air service to Somerset, Ky., and Baltimore-Washington International.
The growing taxi airline, Locair, will add Beckley to its list of stops en route to BWI, beginning Sept. 14.
A Locair plane landed in Beckley Friday morning, and the airline’s general manager, Nathan Vallier, came by to share information about how the airline decided to implement the new service.
“We thought, ‘Let’s drop into Beckley,’” Vallier said. “You guys are right in the perfect area where we can draw from people because you have all the highways here and you’re a commercial center of south West Virginia.”
Locair has been flying out of Florida since 1993, primarily as a charter airline. “Locair hopes to be able to come in here and offer additional service and see if we can emulate what we are doing in Somerset, which is drawing people from about two hours away onto our flights to D.C.,” he continued. “We hope to see you on our flights, and more importantly, we hope to get more people using the airport. That’s one of our goals, to augment what’s already here.”
“It’s an exciting opportunity opening for us,” Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said. “When you look at the BWI market and the revenue generated there for the state of Maryland — over $5 billion a year — and when you look at the connections that are available from BWI, it truly allows access from southern West Virginia to the major markets of the world. Now, from here in Beckley, you can not only go directly to Dulles, but you can go to BWI, and from there, the opportunities are endless.”
Locair is a new type of airline, offering a lot of flexibility to those taking advantage of its services. “We’ve been called a boutique operator because we’re not like everybody else,” Vallier said. “This is a normally 19-seat plane, but there are only nine seats in it. So you get three feet of leg room inside, which is an amazing ride.
“And we don’t nickel and dime people. We don’t charge to take their money, we don’t charge for reservations and we allow pets on board our aircraft at no charge.”
Locair allows 70 pounds of luggage per person and up to three bags. The airline also offers a child’s discount on all fares and is featuring a buy one get one free promotion through Sept. 14. “Right now the fair is $76 each way, so it’s about $160 round trip for everything, and your friend just pays taxes,” Vallier said. “It’s an amazing deal.”
Airport Manager Tom Cochran welcomed the new carrier into Beckley and asked the community for its support. “We’re not trying to do a JFK airport here,” Cochran said. “We’re trying to build and continue the infrastructure process to make this airport supportive of the community. Each one of us has a part in this, and the support that we are asking of the community is something that can certainly lead Locair into other destinations down the road.”
Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh said he also hopes to have a long and profitable relationship for both the airport and Locair. “The airport authority, along with Tom Cochran, has been really pro-active, continuing to provide expanded services,” he said. “But we can only do so much. We can provide those services and we can give the traveling public those services. Now it’s up to the business community and the consumer to utilize the services that we offer, and if we don’t, then shame on us.”