Small airports make big impact

Facilities such as Pearson Field worth millions to communities

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While Washington state has made a name for itself in airplane manufacturing and commercial aviation, Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year highlighted an equally integral part of our economy by declaring May “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” The justification for that designation is seen in impressive statistics.

Studies show the total economic impact of general aviation in Washington in 2005 alone was $3.18 billion, and that the industry sustains 7,615 jobs. But the impact of general aviation goes beyond numbers. For many communities throughout the state that do not have a commercial airport, the residents and small businesses in these regions heavily utilize small aircraft and small airports to connect to urban centers in and beyond the state, visit customers and plants in far-off areas, and serve their customers.

A closer look into general aviation airports shows just how valuable these facilities are to the communities they serve. In Vancouver, according to the Washington Department of Transportation Aviation Department, Pearson Field directly contributes close to $7.5 million to the economy. However, its impact goes beyond just the direct jobs related to the airport, with over $38 million in economic impact to Clark County. In Lewis County, Chehalis-Centralia Airport contributes close to $1.5 million to the local economy with its total economic impact calculated at over $5.5 million.

The value of general aviation and these small airports goes beyond the jobs and economic impact the airports provide as they most importantly provide access points to small towns and rural communities across the state that do not have commercial airline service. When time is of the essence and disaster strikes, these small airports act as a literal lifeline to residents in need, providing access for medical care, law enforcement, disaster relief, firefighting, flight training, agriculture, postal service, and a host of other important services and resources.

Many people are not aware of the tremendous volunteer work that many within the general aviation community provide. Through charity organizations such as Angel Flight West, many people involved with general aviation gladly volunteer their planes and services to transport those in need of medical care.

Life-saving service

Utilizing more than 140 small airports in Washington state, Angel Flight is able to access many remote areas, dramatically cutting travel time for patients who must travel to medical centers in Washington and throughout the United States. In 2009, Angel Flight had 369 flights from Washington, the third highest total for the charity’s Western division. Ready to help when called upon, these pilots are never offered compensation for these trips; they gladly provide valuable assistance to members within our communities on their own dime.

These are compelling reasons why Gov. Gregoire earlier this year highlighted the essential role these airports and aircraft play for local economies and rural communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the governor and others to support these airports and aircraft that provide jobs and economic stability to small communities in our state and all across America.

Jeff Geer, of Ferndale, is president and chairman of BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation (http://www.bravo369.org). The nonprofit organization, founded in 2007, is dedicated to education, aviation history, and preservation of historic aircraft. Geer is also a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America (http://www.aviationacrossamerica.org).