Bedaw/My Turn: Economic Impact Takes Flight From Orange Airport
March 30, 2015
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  • In a report released last month by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Orange Municipal Airport was credited with a $13.9 million annual economic impact on western Massachusetts.

    The MassDOT 2014 Statewide Airport Economic Impact Study summarizes the significant economic benefit that Massachusetts derives from its 39 public-use airports. Input for this study came from numerous data gathering efforts for each airport in the state. Airport managers, businesses, tenants and government organizations were surveyed to estimate the output each airport supports. Visitors to the airports using general aviation aircraft were surveyed to estimate the economic impacts their expenditures support.

    The economic impact of the Orange Municipal Airport is associated with direct impacts that come from operations at the airport, construction projects undertaken by the airport and its tenants, and visitors who arrive in the area via general aviation aircraft. Direct impacts include both on-airport and visitor impacts. On-airport impacts are those benefits associated with on-airport operations, businesses, tenants, and capital construction projects. Airport visitor impacts generally take place off-airport and are attributable to visitor spending. Multiplier impacts consist of indirect and induced impacts related to the recirculation of monies spent locally. The economic impacts associated with the Orange Municipal Airport were estimated using a standard econometric modeling process that has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and used to successfully quantify the value of airports throughout the United States. The complete study is available at www.massdot.state.ma.us/aeronautics/

    The current $13.9 million economic impact of the Orange Municipal Airport is quite remarkable considering just 20 years ago, the airport was in very poor condition. The runways, taxiways and aircraft parking apron were all structurally failing and had long exceeded their useful life. Runway lights and signage were inadequate or nonexistent and navigational aids were antiquated. Storm drains and aircraft fueling facilities did not meet environmental standards. The runway length available for landing was severely displaced due to approach obstructions, and no easements were in place to clear the obstructions. Years of neglect had left the airport on the verge of abandonment. Local officials and residents were debating whether to throw in the towel and turn the airport into a drag racing strip.

    However, realizing its untapped economic potential, the town elected to save the airport. An airport Master Plan was commissioned to research what facilities were required to support the economic development initiatives of the Town of Orange while gaining self-sufficiency for the airport. Potential new funding sources and revenue streams were identified. As early airport improvements began to attract new customers and tenants, airport revenues increased. Airport revenues were then reinvested to fund subsequent planned improvements. The airport partnered with the state and federal government and strategically invested $350,000 in local share leveraging $10.5 million in new airport infrastructure.

    The runways, taxiways, aircraft parking and fueling areas were all reconstructed. New runway lights and signs were installed. Easements were obtained and the approaches were cleared. Underground fuel tanks were removed and new aboveground aircraft fuel tanks were installed. Jet fuel was made available at the airport for corporate aircraft. Old aircraft hangars were torn down and new hangars were built. New navigational aids and automated weather observation systems were installed to guide pilots landing during inclement weather. The airport now offers a full range of corporate services including ground transportation, rental cars, and jet fuel, during both normal business hours and after hours.

    The Orange Municipal Airport now serves as a gateway to nationwide commerce bringing thousands of visitors from all over the country to our region every year. Among surveyed businesses interested in relocating or expanding, one of their most important considerations is access to local air transportation. Three out of five businesses nationwide make use of general aviation airports. The Orange Municipal Airport has become the premier regional economic engine that supports existing businesses while also helping develop new growth. The extraordinary transformation of the Orange Municipal Airport over the past 20 years was made possible through a collaborative effort between the Orange Airport Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Orange Board of Selectmen, Orange Finance Committee, and the citizens of Orange.

    Security and confidentiality concerns prevent many airport users from discussing their business activities with airport personnel. However, a sampling of businesses and agencies known to have made use of the Orange Municipal Airport recently, though far from a complete list, include:

    Aero Care Aviation, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Alliance Glazing Technologies, Australis Barramundi, Boston MedFlight, Brookside Auto Parts, Bulanov Galis, Central Mass Steam and Machinery Association, Crumpin Fox Golf Course, Days Inn, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, Deerfield Academy, Drug Enforcement Administration, Eagle Hill School, Executive Inn, Experimental Aircraft Association, Franklin County Flying Club, Graffitis Aero Graphics, Hannaford Supermarket, Herrick’s Tavern, Judd Wire, Jumptown, KRH Rolls, L.S. Starrett, Legion Flying Club, Lewis Aviation, Life Flight, Market Basket, Massachusetts State Police, National Grid, National Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NetJets, Orange Business Association, Orange Fire Department, Orange Police Department, Oxford Flying Club, Pacific Coast Jet, Padula Brothers, Pan Am Railways, Pete’s Tire Barn, Pexco, Pioneer Aviation, Pop Warner Youth Football and Cheerleading, Princeton Forest Products, Rodney Hunt-Fontaine, Round Power Aviation, Seaman Paper Company, SHA West Coast, Shawanaga Aviation, Skylark Flight Training, Umass Amherst, United States Coast Guard, Urban Aviation Services, Valley Medical Group, White Cloud Restaurant, and Windpower Associates …

    A wise man once said “if you build a mile of highway you can travel only one mile. But if you build a mile of runway you can go anywhere in the world.” But more important, as the Town of Orange discovered, if you build a mile of runway the world can come to you!

    Len Bedaw is the Orange Municipal Airport manager.