“I really do love the smell of jet fuel in the morning,” Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino proclaimed when welcoming visitors to the recent regional forum of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) in a flight service hangar at the county airport.
Astorino was speaking as one whose previous career in radio in Westchester began as a traffic observer riding shotgun in a cramped Cessna plane. In his current job in elected office that jet fuel smell bodes well for employment and the health of the county and regional economy.
“This industry is really vital to the local economy and entire area,” he told an audience seated in an event tent attached to the Panorama Flight Service facility. The forum drew more than 2,000 attendees who surveyed the booths and products of about 120 exhibitors and a display of about 30 aircraft parked outside.
Astorino cited a 2010 study by the state Department of Transportation that found that aviation has a $50 billion economic impact in the state. About 400,000 jobs statewide are related to the aviation industry, he said. The county airport provides 6,300 jobs for area residents.
A spokesman for the NBAA said business aviation in the county generates an estimated $613 million annually for direct and secondary employment alone.
The county airport also helps officials’ efforts to attract companies to relocate to Westchester. “It helps, it really does, to have the airport here,” Astorino said.
With the departure in 2012 of AirTran Airways as an operator at the county airport and with other fuel-cost-conscious commercial operators reducing the number of flights from Westchester, business aviation has accounted for an even larger share of airport traffic. Astorino said the county last year recorded 74,000 corporate and charter flights, compared with 32,000 commercial flights.
“We know that growing air transport generates jobs and pumps millions into all of our communities,” the county executive said. Government should not put a brake on industry growth with “burdensome regulations and taxes,” he said.
In Washington, D.C., Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the approximately 9,000-member NBAA, has seen a “big difference” in the view from Congress of his industry since 2008. In the depths of the recession, CEOs from the Detroit automakers were excoriated on Capitol Hill for flying in corporate jets to congressional hearings on a federal bailout for their companies.
“Government officials are realizing that this is an important industry,” Bolen said. In increasing numbers they are willing to be publicly identified with business aviation, he said, noting that nearly half of the membership in the House of Representatives is in the general aviation caucus. About 40 percent of the House and Senate membership combined belong to the aviation caucus.
Despite that sunnier outlook on the industry from Capitol Hill, “The challenges are only going to get more difficult from here on out,” Bolen warned. The cumulative impact of sequestration threatens the industry, which already saw airport tower closings and air controller furloughs in the first round of the sweeping federal budget cuts, Bolen said.
In this “resource-constrained time” for government, said Bolen, “more and more ideas will surface” on how the industry can contribute more revenue to the federal treasury.
“The challenges of the future are going to be more significant, are going to be tougher, than what we’ve seen to date,” he said.