WINCHESTER — The Winchester Regional Airport Authority voted unanimously Thursday evening to change the airport’s hours of operation from 24 hours a day to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Airport Executive Director Nicholas Sabo told the authority that of the 22 regional airports in Virginia, Winchester Regional Airport is the only one providing 24-hour service.
“The fact that we are 24/7 has other, in my opinion, negative consequences in that it stretches our personnel thin during periods of vacation or illness and causes some operation consequences when we delay and defer maintenance tasks,” Sabo said.
Sabo suggested the airport move toward a more conventional operating structure of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and implement an on-call procedure to accommodate the flights that occur outside of those hours. He said the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to institute regular patrols around the airport when it is closed.
“In my opinion, that enhances airport security, not diminishes [it],” Sabo said.
Authority member Bill Pifer said the change would enhance the staff’s service during regular hours. “Enhancing service puts us in a better position in a competitive market.”
Chairman Gene Fisher said the decision to move toward more conventional hours of operation “wasn’t something that happened overnight.”
“We consulted help, much research was done with other airports,” Fisher said. “It’s a flexible plan.”
Sabo said after the meeting that the airport hopes to implement the new hours within 90 days. He assured that staffing adjustments could be made if a plane needed to fly into the airport outside of regular hours.
“This is for 90 percent of the time where we don’t know of an operation,” Sabo said, “and there will be new procedures for flight crews to follow if they need service outside those hours. It’s very typical in the industry.”
Also at the meeting, Fisher said he wants the airport terminal’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning [HVAC] system repaired.
“I take some responsibility for sitting on this too long, but I want this thing remedied knowing we may not get a new airport [terminal] for five years minimum, probably,” Fisher said. “We can’t afford to have our employees working in this environment. Plus, people that come to use the airport when it’s extremely hot or extremely cold, we just can’t manage the environment for them.”
Sabo said plans to replace the airport’s outdated terminal building at 491 Airport Road may take longer than originally thought. A consultant told airport officials it would be more cost-effective to build a new terminal than renovate the existing one. In 2017, Price Studios showed conceptual designs for a 9,109-square-foot terminal. Plans call for the new facility to be closer to Airport Road, about 200 feet south of the current terminal.
Building the new terminal will cost an estimated $6.1 million. According to Frederick County’s Capital Improvement Plan, the project is scheduled for completion by fiscal year 2022, contingent on funding.
Sabo said on Thursday that getting the necessary funding will be a challenge. He said the airport’s goal was to go to the February meeting of the Virginia Aviation Board and request funds for site work as well as money for the design of the terminal. However, he said it looks like money will be “extremely tight” at that meeting.
The airport will try to apply for funding again in August.
Attending the meeting at the airport terminal were Chairman Gene Fisher and airport authority members Paul Anderson, Bill Pifer, Dave Reichert, Joey Bailey, J.J. Smith and Frank Haun.