There is an untold story behind three recent events. First, Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed the week of Aug. 17-23 Aviation Week in Idaho. In addition, Aug. 19 was National Aviation Day. Finally, this summer is the Idaho Aviation Association’s 25th anniversary.
Making up general aviation, or GA, are airports, aviation businesses, and the people and aircraft doing the flying. GA is all forms of aviation – except airlines and military. GA spans a broad range of aviation uses: business aviation, private aviation, agricultural operations, forest protection, emergency evacuation and transport, search and rescue, sport aviation, aerial photography and mapping, scenic flights, aviation manufacturing, and personal transportation. There are over 20 different uses of general aviation.
We seldom hear about general aviation. GA is the business person traveling to a neighboring state or remote Idaho town on business. GA is the air-taxi operator transporting tourists to remote wilderness or backcountry airfields. It is the aircraft applying products to fields to assure high crop yields. GA flying performs rescue and airlift for injured Idahoans. Thousands fly to Idaho each year for the recreation offered by our network of backcountry airfields. When your neighbors or friends become lost or overdue, aerial search missions come to their aid. They search for overdue or lost hunters, hikers, bikers, snowmobilers and ATV riders. General aviation pilots also perform humanitarian and mercy missions through programs such as Angel Flight and Wilderness Within Reach.
The Idaho Aviation Association continues its work to preserve Idaho’s unique recreational airports, backcountry airstrips and related facilities. Other states have copied our volunteer airport maintenance program, and we have a strong aviation scholarship program.
Idaho history is rich with stories of how aviation developed our unique economy and way of life. Aviation played a key role in developing mining and mining exploration in remote mountains. Aviation featured prominently in developing forest firefighting methods; the famed smokejumpers are a legendary example.
Aviation still delivers U.S. mail to remote ranches and lodges. Rural Idaho depends heavily on community airports, which provide the continued flow of commerce, tourists and visitors.
Yet much of this GA flying is opaque to everyday Idahoans, despite GA’s amazing statistics. The Division of Aeronautics estimates the economic effect of all aviation in Idaho at $2 billion. Of this sum, general aviation comprises half, or $1 billion. In addition, Idaho has 92 aviation-related companies employing more than 1,000. The value of exported aircraft and aviation parts is nearly $308 million. A 2013 law granted sales tax relief to Idaho’s aviation repair shops, making them more competitive nationally. Idaho GA is a growth industry, and is no small potatoes (Idaho potatoes, of course!).
Nationwide, urban growth has encroached on airports, causing many to close. However, Idaho has opened five backcountry airstrips since 1990, bucking the national trend. Moreover, just this year, aviation supporters helped the Legislature pass a law to improve zoning for Idaho’s airports. This is great news for our city and county airports, especially those in high-growth areas.
Some form of general aviation probably touches each one of us. I hope the reader will see this gem of Idaho and appreciate its unique contribution to our society.
Bill Miller is a retired Air Guard Colonel, former Idaho Aeronautics administrator, and Governmental Affairs VP for the Idaho Aviation Association.