As a civil engineer for over 43 years, I have spent a lot of time at airports. And I’m not talking about waiting on a plane or at a gate.
Not only does my company, ETI Corporation, work to maintain and improve aviation infrastructure in Arkansas and western Tennessee, but I am also an instrument-rated private pilot. Through this experience, I’ve seen how critical local airports are to supporting local businesses and rural towns in Arkansas.
When you’re working on an engineering project, you need to be able to see the problems and readily and quickly provide the best solution using the resources on hand. Similarly, having my own plane allows me to fly to the project site and meet with the client right at the airport. This convenient and easy access means we can provide quick and responsive customer service, which keeps our business competitive.
When you’re engineering an airport solution, there’s no better way to gain insight than flying in. A new water tower might not seem that tall, but if it interferes with the airport’s instrument approach it can compromise airport usability and safety. Being a pilot and using my plane, helps me come up with the best solution for the airport and the surrounding community.
My business isn’t the only one drawn to local airports. There is an industrial park near my local airport, West Memphis Municipal. Many of the businesses there have indicated that access through general aviation is one of the reasons they chose West Memphis.
The jobs and economic boost these industries bring to our county wouldn’t be there without our local airport and general aviation.
In Arkansas, general aviation airports support more than $494 million in economic activity annually, over 5,400 jobs, and an annual payroll of $133.4 million.
General aviation helps small businesses transport supplies and personnel, reach far-off markets, and grow while remaining local.
General aviation isn’t just important for business: it can be a literal lifeline to rural communities in Arkansas. It supports emergency and healthcare services, firefighting, law enforcement, and search and rescue. In West Memphis, I see air ambulances coming from across the country to access the nearby hospitals in Memphis. Rural air ambulances depend on local airports because traffic delays at commercial airports can be life threatening. Patients can’t wait for slots to open up at a busy terminal; instead they can fly into a small general aviation airport and be at the hospital without delays.
Yet some people don’t seem to understand how critical general aviation and local airports are to rural communities. In DC, commercial interests are pressuring Congress to privatize our air traffic control system.
The proposed board would have no Congressional oversight, but be able to make decisions about who can fly where and when. They would be making key decisions about investments in infrastructure without input from the constituencies affected.
Our smaller airports and aircraft are an important engine for our businesses and communities – let’s keep it that way.
Stacey Morris is Vice President at ETI Corp, an instrument rated private pilot, and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.