By Alison Grant
General aviation — all flying except for commercial airlines and military operations — took some knocks this year when executive travel on corporate jets became a symbol of boardroom extravagance.
More recently, general aviation was criticized for soaking up billions in passenger fees for improvements to far-flung airports that serve a small slice of the traveling public.
Now the industry is fighting back. A nationwide survey released Tuesday shows general aviation affecting a broad swathe of the nation, accounting for $150 billion a year in economic activity generated by 5,261 public-use airports.
In Ohio, it contributes $5.6 billion, or $478 per person, to the state economy, according to the research, the result of a six-month study by the nonprofit Alliance for Aviation Across America.
The researchers said general aviation is responsible for 17,352 jobs and $498 million in payroll in Ohio. They attributed about 3 percent of jobs statewide to the industry.
“We continue to see the misunderstanding that general aviation is mostly comprised of corporate CEOs and it’s just not the case,” said alliance director Selena Shilad. “We have seen a run of negative press coverage over the last several months. We are concerned that it vilifies general aviation.”
The alliance represents small airports, agricultural organizations, rural businesses, flight schools, fixed-base operators that supply aircraft supplies, pilots and small-town mayors and chambers of commerce.
An interactive map at aviationacrossamerica.org details jobs, economic activity, aviation-related businesses and airports in each state. It also shows which congressional districts have airports — and members are encouraged to contact lawmakers about supporting general aviation funding.
A story in USA Today last week said $15 billion in federal money from airport ticket fees has gone to general aviation airports since 1981. The airports handle mostly recreational planes and corporate jets, and are regularly used by lawmakers getting around their states but “little-used” by the general public, the report said.
“That completely overlooks the fact that for a vast majority of communities around the country this is the sole lifeline to businesses, disaster relief, medical care and access to urban areas,” Shilad said.
Facts about general aviation in Ohio:
172 general aviation airports
10,386 general aviation aircraft
60 charter flight companies
13 flight schools
Source: Alliance for Aviation Across America
Source: THE PLAIN DEALER