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MAAC sees change in local airport authority as 'very positive'

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

Legislation aimed at changing the Benedum Airport Authority is not a bid by the state to take control of the airport, according to Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex officials.

The legislation is designed to create opportunities for economic development, said MAAC Executive Director Jim Skidmore. Also, it's meant to bring the airport complex into the 21st century, Skidmore said.

"We see it as one big package," Skidmore said Tuesday. "We have to embrace general aviation, commercial aviation and economic development. The Mid-Atlantic Aerospace companies see this as one big complex serving the community."

Authority President Roger Diaz said Thursday he still considers the bill a backhanded way for the state to limit the influence of the Harrison and Marion County commissions. Diaz said the issue can be reduced to two points: Home rule and the way the bill was passed.

If House Bill 3252 is signed by Gov. Bob Wise, it will radically alter the authority's composition.

The county commissions will have four appointments. The Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex board of directors will name two members. Also on the authority: The MAAC executive director, a representative from the state Council for Community and Economic Development, the state transportation secretary, the Bridgeport city manager and the president of Fairmont State College.

Controlling more than a fourth of the seats makes sense for MAAC since its companies have invested nearly $100 million and brought more than 1,500 jobs to the area, according to a press release issued Thursday by the complex.

Because of that commitment, "... the board (of directors) feels the only way Benedum Airport, MAAC, the aviation industry and its kindred interests can continue to take full advantage of all opportunities ... is to modernize and streamline associated systems and to unify all resources," the release said.

Through several training programs, MAAC companies have spent more than $5 million to educate West Virginians, the release said. MAAC companies have spent between $500,000 and $1 million annually on education and training, the release said.

The MAAC team is working on projects worth more than $50 million, according to the release. The projects could mean thousands of new jobs to the area, it said.

"This is a very simple thing," Skidmore said. "We think it's a very positive thing from many different perspectives. It's good for the airport, the companies and even the whole state."

Diaz said the press release was an attempt to justify the legislation.

"It's basically the same thing we've been hearing from Congressman (Alan) Mollohan," he said. "Everybody's trying to justify what has happened."

Mollohan said Thursday he sees the legislation as a positive step. He said the people chosen for the authority show balance and diversity, but also expertise in the aerospace field.

"I know there have been some concerns about control issues, but I'm far less interested in that than I am in making sure that the board is diverse and has expertise in aerospace," Mollohan said.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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