NORTH ANDOVER — Of $16.6 billion contributed to the Massachusetts economy by airports, the Lawrence Municipal Airport contributes just over $30 million annually, a recent study by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has found.
According to a projection model worked out by the Federal Aviation Administration, when aviation-related businesses spend $100, that generates $56 additional dollars as a ripple effect. Employees at the airport contribute to the economy by shopping for groceries, getting a car fixed, or getting a haircut. And when visitors fly into an airport and decide to eat at a nearby restaurant or spend money at a local hotel, that money is injected into the state’s economy.
Of the state’s 39 airports, Logan International Airport in Boston is the heaviest hitter, accounting for over $13 billion of the $16.6 billion generated by airports overall, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. But smaller, general aviation airports such as the one in North Andover have an important place in the economy, Massachusetts Airport Management Association executive director David Dinneen says.
“They’re all doing the same business on a smaller scale (than Logan),” Dinneen said. “Businesses operate out of the smaller airports because it is economically more viable for these companies to operate.”
The businesses include on-site eateries, limousine companies and others that serve passengers directly. Many of the flights that pass through Lawrence are small, charter planes transporting a small number of business travelers to or from another city. The airport offers companies the convenience of setting their own schedule for their departure and return flights. Those coming to the Merrimack Valley to “transact business” have a positive impact on the region’s economy, Dinneen said.
But another part of the value of smaller airports is their potential for use in research, development and education, Lawrence Municipal Airport manager Michael Miller said.
Miller said the Lawrence Municipal Airport and other small airports are uniquely situated to have companies come in and test out radar, national security equipment, and other “high-tech devices.” Since there is no scheduled airline traffic as there is at an international airport, that activity doesn’t disrupt flights. Miller said he also has an easier time managing security for those kinds of operations than a larger airport would. Raytheon is one of the companies that frequently takes advantage of the site, Miller said.
“We can allocate a certain area that they can operate and we know that it’s not going to effect our operations where as Logan is so tight and so densely packed it’s just not possible,” Miller said.
Public safety is another piece of what the airport does, Miller said. A State Police Air Wing unit is based in Lawrence, and it also serves as landing site for Boston MedFlight helicopters to pick up critically wounded patients and transport them to Boston hospitals.
Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization that coordinates free air travel for those with medical needs, also operates flights out of Lawrence, Miller said. Angel Flight is not for urgent care, but meant for patients who require care from far away specialists.
The runways host flight school students and emergency response groups such as the Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary which also reaches out to area schools and attempts to educate students about careers in aviation, Miller said. Recently, they set up two mobile classrooms at the airport.
“Most people think it’s just a bunch of airplanes, but there’s actually a lot of other things going on around here,” Miller said.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics Administrator Chris Willenborg said one of the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry is to make sure there are enough people trained as pilots, air traffic controllers and other crucial positions. Airports like the one in Lawrence help to shore up that future, he said, by hosting groups that reach out to the community and attempt to recruit future aviation employees.
“Lawrence plays a critical role in flight training,” he said. “The airport plays a really important role in developing tomorrow’s aviation workforce.”