I have always loved aviation. From the time I was a kid, I used to hang out at my local airport, sitting mesmerized watching the planes arrive and depart. I earned my wings at 16 and took the job managing Dalton Municipal Airport when the opportunity came to pay forward the joy aviation brought me. My goal was to ensure Dalton, Ga., had a working airport and educate the town on why that is so important.
First, I often highlight that our local airport is a mammoth economic generator. Our local businesses and companies use Dalton Municipal to connect with clients and bring in contractors to build new facilities. Dalton Municipal is our connection to global markets, allowing our carpet manufacturers, for example, to produce carpets that are exported around the world. This business activity supports jobs and a payroll of approximately $900,000 and contributes more than $3 million to our local economy.
The airport itself supports an economic impact of more than $3 million. In total, general aviation in the state of Georgia represents an economic impact of $1.2 billion annually and supports more than 10,000 jobs.
Second, our airport connects our community to critical services. The Governor’s Task Force uses the Dalton Airport, for example, to combat the production and distribution of illegal drugs. It is a cooperative effort between federal, state and local agencies that relies on support from the Georgia National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol to provide aerial surveillance, logging more than 1,000 flight hours combined in 2015, and producing tangible results for communities in Georgia.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses our airport to eradicate rabies in the same region. Five planes based at Dalton Airport distribute rabies vaccines in the form of edible packets to be eaten by raccoons and other wild mammals in the area. As a result, these animals are inoculated from the disease that can be transmitted to humans and cause deaths.
Our airport may not be the biggest in the country by far, but it is important to our local economy and a lifeline for critical services, as well as serves as a part of our national infrastructure. But a proposal being considered in Congress would privatize the air traffic control system, taking oversight away from our elected officials who represent communities large and small. Instead oversight would be in the hands of an unelected board of private interests, which would largely be influenced by the airlines. This board of private interests would make critical decisions that would shape the system, such as where to invest infrastructure resources, what aircraft can access the system, and set the fees and taxes paid within the system by consumers and communities.
This raises critical questions about how these private interests will make decisions. Our national network of about 3,100 airports that are deemed critical to our national infrastructure support a wide variety of crucial functions, including law enforcement, medical response and transportation, agricultural support, blood and organ transportation, land management, natural disaster relief, port and border security — and even rabies eradication.
As the system is currently structured, our elected representatives ensure that the public interest is being represented, and that these critical functions are being supported. But under the model being proposed in Congress, what is important to a few individual private interests would win out over the public interest. Decisions would be made to benefit the decision-makers and their profit margins, at the expense of the American public.
Our local airport, like thousands of others across the nation, helps to support local businesses and critical services. Privatizing air traffic control would jeopardize the future of our airport and the resources it represents to this community.
Justin Morrow is the manager of Dalton Municipal Airport.