Late this afternoon, North Central West Virginia Airport Interim Director Rick Rock got the second dose of good news for the facility located in Bridgeport. Following the early afternoon announcement from Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin that the airport would receive $186,000 in FEMA funding for safety efforts, he received even better news for the future.
Rock learned that the second school from the Big 12 Conference, Texas Christian University, will be likely using the airport to fly in and out of for the upcoming 2012 West Virginia University football season. The information came by way of correspondence from Shonda Kline, with American Airlines, stating that they would be utilizing the airport for a flight with TCU.
Earlier this year, it was learned that not only will Baylor University be flying into and out of Bridgeport for its Sept. 29 game with WVU, but will also be bringing in an extended alumni group. The BU party is expected to top 300 travelers.
“I would say that we can count on anywhere between 137 to 150 with this group (from TCU), and that’s just if it’s the team, staff and other key individuals,” Rock said. “It could end up being a lot like the Baylor contingent and we’ll work on trying to make that happen.”
If the TCU party does in fact come into town for the Nov. 3 game in Morgantown, which would mean two of the first three teams traveling to West Virginia for Big 12 Conference games will be using Bridgeport as a landing and departure spot. The only conference game before that is the Oct. 20 game with Kansas State and officials are working to get the Wildcats, as well as other league foes past the TCU game, to fly into Harrison County.
The airport, along with convention and visitors’ bureaus throughout the Interstate 79 corridor, have been working feverishly to get the new Big 12 schools to utilize the Bridgeport airport as opposed to flying into Pittsburgh. A trip to Pittsburgh generally means the teams will stay in Washington, Pa., and not only does the NCWV Airport lose out on the enplanements needed to hopefully secure federal dollars, but the region losses out on tens of thousands of dollars spent at local businesses and thousands of dollars in hotel/motel taxes.
“Right now, we’re trying to learn about the travel habits of the schools in the Big 12. We feel our area will give an opportunity for the teams, the alumni and the fans of the visiting schools to have a great experience,” said Rock. “We’re still in our relationship, sales and marketing mode as it relates to getting as many teams and passengers to come to our airport from the Big 12 schools.
“Once we get them here, we feel it’s imperative to roll out the red carpet for them,” Rock continued. “We want them to spread the word and come back the next time they play here. We have the capability to meet all of their needs to everything from services to being close to the stadium, but the difference into coming back will be largely based on what type of experience they have.”
If Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Tim Brady has his way, the experience the visitors have won’t be an issue. He called the correspondence from American Airlines “great news” and that he hopes the team flight translates into the “fan base and alumni using charters and private aircraft” to come into Bridgeport.
“This teams me that the teams and the universities themselves are seeing that the North Central West Virginia Airport is a viable option for flying into our area … The fact that Baylor is coming in and it now appears that TCU is coming in gives us a solid base to work with something,” Brady said. “This makes me want to be more creative and competitive with our marketing strategy since we have that base. We can tell others that Baylor and TCU are coming here and ask them why they’re not coming here or that they should consider coming here.”