The Aiken community converged on Aiken Regional Airport Monday morning to recognize both the airport’s importance and S.C. Aviation Week as a whole.
From 9-10 a.m., Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and several state aviation and aeronautics officials discussed the regional airport’s history and significance.
From 10 a.m. to noon, the airport held an open house, which allowed the greater public to see how the business – and the industry in general – operates.
Wilson, whose remarks closed the on-the-tarmac ceremony, said he was thankful for the airport’s military roots and its current economic influence.
“And I always love to come by during Masters week and see the traffic jams of planes, people, cars,” Wilson said. “Sen. Tom Smith and I like to come by and just count. And it just really is an inspiring situation. But it does create jobs, really a lot of jobs.”
Aiken Regional Airport, first established around 1942 as a military complex, has a direct and indirect employment impact of 178 jobs, according to a recent S.C. Aeronautics Commission study. Aviation across South Carolina supports 122,000 jobs.
Between spending, payroll and other factors, Aiken’s airport also bolsters – directly and indirectly, again – the state economy by $25 million annually.
Aiken City Council members Dick Dewar and Ed Girardeau said the facility’s economic weight is without a doubt noticeable.
While Dewar described the community impact of the airport as “massive,” Girardeau stressed the growth opportunities that could stem from it, namely in neighborhoods between the downtown area and I-20.
“We need to take advantage of this,” Girardeau said.
“The airport … offers itself as an anchor to Northside development,” Osbon said, following up.
More than 23,000 people visit South Carolina via Aiken Regional Airport, according to the aeronautics commission’s count. A chunk of that is sourced from Masters week, the airport’s busiest window.
More than 400 planes landed in Aiken this year for the iconic golf tournament, which represents a 15 percent increase compared to last year, according to one airport official.
“South Carolina airports do mean business,” S.C. Aeronautics Commission Director James Stephens said. He called Aiken Regional Airport a “class A” facility.
The state is home to 60 general aviation airports, six commercial airports and five military airfields.
A couple of weeks ago, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed Aug. 19-25 to be S.C. Aviation Week. Stephens, speaking directly to members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation, said the recognition is fantastic.
“I look at this as an opportunity to show you and let you see what we do and how we do it,” Stephens said, “and let you hopefully get a better understanding of the value of your local airport and those that you serve in this community.”