Kentucky is known for a few things: bourbon, bluegrass, barbeque, horses and college basketball. However, many may not realize it is also known for aviation. Of the 98 high schools in the U.S. that teach aerospace and aviation skills, 25 of them are in our commonwealth. Our number one export is aerospace products at $11.7 billion in 2017. While we are landlocked, Kentucky is the only state that can have three international freight forwarders call Kentucky home (UPS, DHL and Amazon). Our general aviation airports are an important economic driver for our rural communities.
Here in Kentucky, we have one of the best helicopter evacuation systems in the world; our vast aerial medical network gives us the ability to respond to nearly any accident in Kentucky within 10 minutes. This is crucial for a state as large and rural as ours. Our network of general aviation airports plays a vital role in responding to accidents when they happen.
In fact, a recent study commissioned by the Kentucky Department of Aviation found that general aviation airports serve a critical role during disaster relief. Our local, public-use airports provide a location for the deployment of rescue operations and the evacuation of those in need. Plans have been drawn up for all 53 general aviation airports in the event of a disaster and play a vital role in providing a place for air operations to land or takeoff and allow disaster relief workers to react to a crisis quickly and effectively.
The versatility of general aviation also makes it an important resource for businesses. There is no other form of direct, point-to-point transportation that matches the speed of general aviation. When businesses need to execute quickly, general aviation is there for them. Take for instance the blizzard we had in Jan 17-19, 1994. It is largely believed to have been one of the worst snowstorms of all time. Nearly two feet of snow fell between Shelbyville and Cynthiana, with Louisville receiving a record-breaking 16 inches of snowfall in a single-day, followed by an intense cold air mass on the 21st coming south that plunged temperatures as low as 37 degrees below zero and many roads were either frozen or covered in snow. Interstates I-75, I-64, and I-65 were closed the whole week.
This situation was particularly bad for the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, which utilizes just-in-time production to manufacture their vehicles. Just-in-time production, sometimes known as the Toyota production system, is a lean produce-as-needed system designed to reduce the amount of time a product sits before being sold. General aviation was there to support the plant with planes flying into the Georgetown Scott County Regional Airport and Blue Grass Airport to deliver necessary component parts and ensure that the plant maintained its production schedule. Were it not for general aviation, it’s hard to say what would happen, but it certainly wouldn’t have been good.
Between the economic benefits and the public services provided, it’s clear general aviation and local airports play an important role in both growing business and saving lives across our commonwealth. This lifeline is an economic driver, allows farmers to protect their crops, survey their land, and increase their food production. The services that general aviation provides every day are an important reminder that our support is vital to the prosperity of communities across the country. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin calls the state’s general aviation airports the front door to their communities and a vital link to economic development.
Robert Riggs is the Kentucky Aviation Association Legislative Committee chairman, a commissioner for the Kentucky Airport Zoning Commission, and vice chair of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky.