Local Airports, Both a Field of Dreams and an Economic Driver
February 5, 2016
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  • It was where I went when I wanted to be alone; it was where I went when I was frustrated or mad at my parents; it was where I went when I wanted a place to think and dream; it was a place where I saw my future. I occasionally visited during the day, but an airport is magical at night.

    In small town America, a local airport gets really, really quiet at night. It also gets particularly dark in areas where the lights from the runways and taxiways don’t penetrate. The nooks and crannies of the parking lots and ramps can be good places to watch the stars and just be.

    Though I took most of my flying lessons out at Camp’s grass strip further out of town between Starkville and the “Crossroads,” I still felt the strongest pull from the blue lights of the taxiways and the rotating beacon flashing green and white every night at Starkville’s municipal airport.

    There is something about an airport that promises adventure and the unknown. It portends of new people and experiences. Its lyrics are for those who hear the siren song of the sky. As someone who heeded the call, it made all the difference for me.

    Beyond childhood dreams, as I took a broader view than my personal fascination with flying, I learned to appreciate the economic impact of an airport on a community. There are volumes of studies that use complicated calculations to get to the local value an airport generates. The dollar measurement is a SWAG (sophisticated wild-ass guess) using direct revenue, indirect revenue and induced revenue from multiplier effects. Way above my pay grade for deciphering.

    However, it is a given that close and convenient transportation access to your town is valuable. In 2014 the area benefit from Golden Triangle Regional Airport was measured at $272,548,200 making it the third most productive commercial airport in the state. Third only to Jackson and Gulfport. To say it is a major economic driver for our region is to state the obvious.

    But that begs the question of why it is important to have a small municipal airport when you have such a substantial facility within 20 miles of your city. The study using that same SWAG methodology shows an economic impact of $8,583,500 for George M. Bryan Field on our local economy. It may not be the top of the heap, but it clearly makes a positive difference in what we can offer our residents and visitors.

    So, who uses our municipal field? Local aviation enthusiasts, no question. I have a number of acquaintances who fly for fun from there. Could they use GTRA? Certainly, but the smaller, uncontrolled airfield is easier to get into and out of without having to deal with commercial traffic and Columbus Air Force Base training flights.

    Our small local field is high quality. The city has been receiving sizeable FAA grants for improvements for at least a decade. From those grants there have been improvements in the hangars and runway and taxiways. That would be our federal tax dollars at work for us.

    We have a runway that is a very workable length at 5,550 feet. It allows larger aircraft to comfortably land with an instrument approach down to 300 feet above ground level and one-mile visibility. Basically that means unless the weather is really crummy as in you can’t see your hand in front of your face, most qualified pilots can land.

    Airport manager Rodney Lincoln said there are 51 aircraft based there. That is roughly a 30-percent increase over the last few years and it is directly attributable to the increase in the hangar facilities built from grants. Those planes supply ad-valorem taxes to our city, county and school coffers.

    We have an average of 26,000 flight operations annually. As you can imagine those flights bring families and friends in to watch our Bulldogs play as well as state dignitaries and assorted alumni including those Nucor or Flexsteel or Southwire executives who might drop in on their operations sites. That brings us the sales tax dollars upon which we also depend for city services.

    Our airport not only sparks the dreams of future aviators, but while it is doing that it is also creating opportunities, conveniences and a broader positive identity for Starkville.

    Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address isĀ