It has been an incredible three years for Shenandoah Valley Airport (SHD). After announcing their non-stop United Express jet service powered by SkyWest in April 2018, SHD experienced record passenger numbers, added additional flights in the fall of 2018 as a result of the passenger increase, and was endorsed as the Official Airport of James Madison University (JMU) in December of 2019.
A critical driver behind these efforts is the work of the SHD Air Service Task Force launched by JMU. Chaired by Dr. Nick Swartz, Associate Dean of Professional and Continuing Education, Task Force Ambassadors work with many JMU programs and departments in addition to tourism, economic development and local higher education partners. Task Force Members represent Blue Ridge Community College, City of Harrisonburg, Hotel Madison & Shenandoah Valley Conference Center, James Madison University, Lantz Construction, Rockingham County, Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, Shenandoah Valley Partnership and Shenandoah Valley Technology Council.
“I’m proud to join fellow SHD Ambassadors in leading the conversation in our communities on the importance and convenience of flying local. SHD provides connections to major markets for business and leisure travel and is instrumental in regional economic development efforts. As focus grows on attracting and retaining talent, offering seamless connectivity to the rest of the world is a nonnegotiable. Together, we can fuel the Shenandoah Valley economy and grow SHD airline services when we choose to fly local,” said Task Force member Cari Orebaugh, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Shenandoah Valley Partnership.
Task Force Members have focused their efforts on increasing awareness of local air service with one common message: incorporating SHD into your travel plans is critical for positive economic development efforts and enhanced quality of life. As Peirce Macgill, Assistant Director of Economic Development for the City of Harrisonburg and Task Force Member, states “In economic development, transportation and quality of life are two key metrics in attracting new businesses. This makes the success of SHD critical in growing our economy. Most businesses we seek to attract to the Valley require reliable and quality air transportation options, both for business and leisure.”
The airline industry as a whole has been greatly impacted in the past year by the pandemic, making the efforts of the task force and community support even more critical as regions such as the Shenandoah Valley work to maintain current levels of air service and demonstrate local demand as passengers return to flying. In response to this new challenge, the SHD Air Service Task Force has worked diligently over the past few months to identify local community members to join their efforts as ambassadors of local air service. This group is made up of approximately 80 representatives across the region in business and industry; higher education; health care; economic development; hospitality/tourism/special events; and the travel sector. On April 20 the SHD Ambassadors kicked off their first meeting with a presentation from Michael Mooney, Managing Partner with Volaire Aviation. Mr. Mooney spoke on the current state of the airline industry, the value of the United service in the Valley and the unique opportunities the pandemic has created for airports like SHD as travelers begin to return to air travel. “Airlines will put added flights where they see passenger demand. Shenandoah has a wonderful opportunity in the coming years to see expanded air service. It all starts with using the local service as often as possible now,” he remarked.
Moving forward SHD Ambassadors have committed to promoting the value of local air service to their personal and professional networks, as well as staying up to date on any developments through regular quarterly meetings.
“The overall work of the SHD Air Service Task Force highlights the collaborative spirit and nature that exists within the Shenandoah Valley,” said Dr. Swartz. “The unique partnership between JMU and SHD is an excellent example of JMU’s involvement in helping promote and facilitate economic development efforts on behalf of our entire region and Commonwealth. We’ve made great progress over the last 2 years but in order to become more competitive, the work of the new SHD Ambassadors is absolutely essential.”
Nick Swartz, Ph.D., SHD Air Service Task Force Chair