Driving through rural areas, you may see small airplane signs along the road and you think to yourself, “Why in the world is there an airport in such a small town?” When most people hear the word “aviation,” the first thing that comes to mind is jumping on a commercial airliner and flying somewhere for business or pleasure. While this is a great part of aviation, it is only a small piece of the puzzle where the sky is the limit. Aviation is a broad term that covers everything from military, recreation, business, airline, cargo, manufacturing, education and maintenance.
Small airports have a multiplier effect on jobs and income; this is known as induced economic impact. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, every $1 spent at an airport adds $2.53 to the local economy. West Virginia aviation is an economic driver to the communities in which airports are located, contributing $1.5 billion dollars annually to the West Virginia economy.
Businesses actively seek locations with a community airport when locating a plant, headquarters, distribution center or retail store. Compared to larger, “hub”-style airports, general aviation airports offer less congestion and lower fees, which result in unbeatable convenience and cost effectiveness. While smaller general aviation airports may not provide passenger air service, they are utilized by private and business aircraft. Smaller general aviation airports also offer flying lessons for those with an eye for the sky. The Robert C. Byrd Aerospace center located at the North Central WV Airport offers degrees for professional pilot careers, aircraft maintenance professionals and aviation management.
The West Virginia Airport Managers Association — or WVAMA — is a group comprised of aviation professionals from throughout the state. The WVAMA promotes and protects aviation in the state through awareness and working with representatives on the state and national levels. Recently the WVAMA was involved in speaking out against air traffic control privatization. Privatization would have been detrimental to aviation, and even more devastating to smaller airports like the ones in West Virginia. Luckily the bill was killed, and it appears things are safe for now.
Unfortunately, there are several other issues facing aviation in the near future. As aviation grows, the need for pilots and mechanics grows. Many airline pilots are reaching retirement age, and Boeing predicts the United States will have a pilot shortage of 60,000 pilots in the next five years.
The WVAMA is working to educate and instill an interest in aviation. One of the things brought forth by the WVAMA in the last few years is the West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame. Each year, two West Virginia natives who have had a significant impact in aviation are honored at the WVAMA conference. The Hall of Fame museum is located at the North Central WV Airport.
The WVAMA offers an internship program for college students interested in aviation. Thanks to the WVAMA, Feb. 21 is recognized as West Virginia Aviation Day, receiving proclamations from Governor Jim Justice and both the West Virginia House and Senate.
West Virginia has a bright future in aviation. As the state grows, it relies on aviation and local airports to help it. The next time you see a small airport, remember it is a driving factor to providing jobs, generating revenue and attracting businesses.
Clint Ransom is president of the West Virginia Airport Managers Association.