BRIDGEPORT — North Central West Virginia Airport is coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic strong.

Last year marked one of the worst years on record for the travel industry, but officials at the Bridgeport airport are showing they haven’t let the tough year slow them down.

Wednesday, the airport was alive and well with buzzing engines and filled boarding areas, with just over 100 passengers ready to board a flight to the airport’s newest destination, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in Florida.

“This is a tell-tale sign of what this airport is all about,” said Rick Rock, airport director. “A lot of people were scared [last year]. We decided we weren’t going to tuck tail and run, we went out to see what we can do.”

The airport is adding this new destination with Allegiant Airlines, but officials are also working toward getting things back in order as the pandemic appears to wind down. Flights to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina are back five days a week and flights to Orlando are back three times a week.

“All our key performance indicators are solid and looking back at this same time last year, where we were and where we’ve been, it’s very satisfying,” Rock said.

To celebrate the landing of the inaugural flight from Destin, Fla. on Wednesday, Rock and his staff invited media and local officials to watch the flight land.

As the plane taxied to the boarding area, two fire engines shot fountains of water in an arch over the plane.

“People in Marion County and the surrounding counties love the destination in Florida,” said Randy Elliot, Marion County Commissioner, at the landing event. “Who wouldn’t want to be in the air for two hours as opposed to driving all day?”

The popularity of the destination is already apparent. Just over 100 passengers were ready to board the flight to Florida.

The consensus among officials is that is only going to be a boon for West Virginia’s attractiveness and tourism. Elliot has high hopes for the near future of the airport and the surrounding area.

“We have a lot of exciting things happening,” Elliot said. “This is a huge hub here for economic reasons. Yes, we went through a tough time last year, but we’re back booming now. It’s a good time to be here, a lot of good, exciting things happening.”

Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, was also in attendance to welcome the inaugural flight.

“I think from an economic standpoint this is an asset,” Shaw said. “This area will get a lot more visitors, not only coming here, but it opens it up for our community to travel to places that are normally hard to get to.”

The increase in activity and traffic at the airport is proving to strike a hopeful tone in officials’ voices.

“I just think that no one needs to leave North Central West Virginia to get on a plane to go anywhere,” Shaw said. “All you have to do is go to our airport. Just seeing the crowd today getting ready to go on the first flight to Destin, it was awesome.”

North Central West Virginia Airport is co-owned by Harrison and Marion counties.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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