By Russ Mitchell, Daily Reporter Staff
It’s Tuesday, and customers for airplane repair service companies Spencer Avionics and Camm Air have flown in and out. Pilot lessons took place. New signs went up, the airfield’s alfalfa is being cut and the airport is getting ready for the weekend’s aerobatics competition.
“Today, we’ve got several ag sprayers operating and we’ve had several corporate jets going,” said Gayle Brandt, the director of airport services for Leading Edge Aviation.
The annual economic impact of the air transportation industry in Iowa is estimated to exceed $5.4 billion according to a report released Monday by the Iowa Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Aviation.
The report also compiled the numbers for Spencer’s airport and others around the state. An estimated 50 jobs were created through businesses, activities, capital improvement projects and spending by visitors who arrive in Spencer. About $1.6 million in annual payroll goes to the 50 employees.
Leading Edge is the city’s contracted manager for the Northwest Iowa Regional Airport. It’s also one of the businesses that contributes to a $5.8 million economic benefit at Spencer Airport. About 15,300 aircraft arrive or depart from the city each year.
“Those numbers seem huge, but then when you look at how they break it all apart and they look at different businesses locally that do work out here, the people who are employed out here — the impact is more substantial than is often realized,” Brandt said.
Aaron McCartan, an International Aerobatic Club member from Pocahontas, said the quality of the airport in Spencer was a primary factor in moving the upcoming weekend’s aerobatics competition to Spencer. The Doug Yost Challenge is a sanctioned, major-regional flight competition. Pilots in five categories are graded on their ability to execute required elements while staying in a restricted airspace.
“IAC Chapter 78, my local chapter, has been hosting contests at Albert Lea, Minn., for nearly 20 years,” McCartan said in a recent interview. “Albert Lea has had a lot of businesses built in the vicinity of the airport — specifically right underneath our aerobatic box — our competition arena. We can no longer get a waiver to utilize that box because of businesses directly under.”
The IAC chapter looked for an airport that had adequate hangar space. The club also wanted an airport on the outskirts of a city, with motel space and catering available nearby.
Spencer was one of the better options in the chapter’s region because it is considered an “enhanced service airport,” in the state DOT report. The designation means the airport should be capable of supporting most general aviation aircraft. It houses 35 aircraft including three multi-engine planes and three business jets.
“He (McCartan) says he’s pretty much sold out two hotels in town,” Brandt said. “They’re planning to do a banquet at one of the restaurants in town. He’s also got 30 different volunteers coming from different locations.”
The Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation also noted sometimes unnoticed, year-round uses at the Spencer airport including aerial photography, law enforcement, aerial real estate tours and environmental patrols.
“I think the airport here in Spencer was recognized more so when the scheduled airline service was here,” Brandt said. “Once that departed, a lot of people didn’t think there was much activity out here.”
The buzz still came from planes — if not from the traveling public — in the 20 years after Great Lakes Aviation ended a 20-year run of scheduled airline flights. Since the spring of 2001, air charter service has been available through Leading Edge. Most of those requests come from summer recreational travelers on their way to the Iowa Great Lakes.
Overall business activity in Iowa is increased by $12.8 billion as a result of the use of aviation-related services, according to Michelle McEnany, director of the Iowa DOT’s Office of Aviation.
“Everyone benefits from aviation because the industry is so integrated into every facet of the economy,” she said. “From the availability of rapid medical transport to Internet purchasing and package delivery to emergency relief and recovery efforts like we witnessed in 2008, aviation plays an important role in making Iowa a better place to live.”
Source: SPENCER DAILY REPORTER