By Hank Hayes
General aviation has been getting a bum rap in Congress and in the news media, industry advocates said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
The Alliance for Aviation Across America – a coalition of more than 4,400 individuals representing businesses, agricultural groups, rural airports and various other aviation factions – hosted the call to release a state-by-state survey on the economic impact of general aviation.
In Tennessee, the alliance said general aviation has more than a $2.5 billion economic impact on the state amounting to 51,800 jobs.
Those numbers are helped by FedEx being based in Memphis and using a large number of smaller general aviation aircraft, in addition to cargo planes, the alliance noted.
The alliance survey said 42 percent of Tennessee aircraft are primarily used for business versus the national average of 28 percent.
General aviation started getting a wave of negative news coverage last year when auto industry executives used private jets to go to Congress to ask for federal bailout funds, U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers said.
“Congressmen love to tackle issues that they think resonates well with the public,” Ehlers, R-Mich., said during the call. “When the executives of GM (General Motors), Ford and Chrysler flew into town on private jets, some members of Congress saw a great target. And that’s what started the snowball rolling. It was totally unfair. Business aviation is very important. … Aviation is extremely important, particularly for small businesses.
“That’s not the picture that some congressmen portrayed – that all the rich fat cats who run corporations have their private little jets. It’s the nuts and bolts of operating a business and satisfying customers’ needs quickly.”
Mayor Carl Brewer of Wichita, Kansas, indicated his area – with more than 7,000 registered pilots – has felt the economic backlash.
“Aviation is huge here,” he said. “(But) when you start talking about aviation in a negative manner and the economy and the media starts responding to the negative information out there and individuals stop selling planes, then you end up with what’s happening in the city of Wichita, where I have 15,000 people being laid off or don’t have work because banks aren’t loaning money or individuals stop buying planes because it’s not the popular thing to do. … Congress should give us the same emphasis they are giving the auto industry.”
The number of general aviation aircraft at Tri-Cities Regional Airport has declined since 2001, prompting the Airport Commission this year to seek a new operating agreement with Tri-City Aviation, TCRA’s main general aviation contractor.
TCRA has plans to develop more private hangar facilities and has attempted to recruit aviation-related manufacturing to the airport.
For more about the survey go to www.aviationacrossamerica.org.