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.