An updated N.C. State study of the state’s airports shows the Moore County Airport contributed 305 local jobs and $17.33 million in direct economic benefits such as goods purchased and services consumed in 2017.
The analysis, released last month, was conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) at North Carolina State University. Among its findings, it shows airport customers and businesses paid $1.27 million in local taxes. In total, the combined direct and indirect benefits of the airport’s operations added $71 million in economic impact.
Ron Maness, the airport manager, presented the new data to a consolidated planning meeting at the airport with the Airport Authority, the Moore County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Moore County Chamber of Commerce and the economic development team at Partners in Progress. The goal of the meeting was to jointly collaborate on economic development.
“These are big numbers, important numbers, bringing substantial benefits to the people of Moore County,” Maness said.
Thomas McPherson, Airport Authority chairman, said the report “shows the growing, positive economic impact the airport has on Moore County. It is a great reminder that our local airport plays a fundamental and foundational role in the economy of the Sandhills.”
The Moore County Airport offers a 6,500-foot runway and state-of-the-art instrument approaches and lighting. There are about 100 planes, 90 hangars, aircraft maintenance services, a flight school with more than 50 students and a dozen aviation-related businesses. The airport handles about 6,000 take-offs and landings each year.
“Measuring the economic impact of the airport is challenging. While everybody sees planes as they fly overhead, most of the benefits our airport delivers are invisible,” said Maness. “When an air ambulance comes and goes, it’s a good thing but nobody notices. When a charter flight drops off a dozen golfers nobody cheers. When a young person becomes a commercial pilot and starts a great high-paying career, nobody writes a press release. When the owner of a plane pays local property taxes, it’s great but it doesn’t make headlines. But that’s what happens at the airport, every single day, and it’s great for our community.”
Pat Corso, a member of both the Airport Authority and Partners in Progress, explained the cost-benefit dynamics based on his own career in the resort business. He noted that most visitors to the Sandhills arrive on commercial air service at Raleigh and drive here by car.
“But the chairman of the board arrives by private plane. His or her hours just are too valuable to waste in airport lounges,” Corso continued. “If there was no airport here, those meetings would move to Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach. This means the airport is directly responsible for filling thousands of our hotel rooms every year.”
McPherson agreed with Corso, adding “General aviation access to Moore County and Pinehurst is a critical factor in securing our position in the golfing world. The airport enables Pinehurst to be competitively positioned in the top tier of the global golf community.”
Although airport officials are frequently asked about commercial service returning to Moore County, Maness says those chances “are virtually zero.”
“Since 9-11, the economics of the commercial airlines have completely changed,” he said. “The planes are getting bigger and harder to fill. There’s a severe pilot shortage. The cost of airport security has skyrocketed. Commercial service to a small town like ours is just not in the cards.” Maness is a retired commercial pilot and actively consults on operational issues with American Airlines.
Maness point out that the Airport has a critical role in the community even without the benefit of commercial service. Military contractor support, medical airlift, air freight for high-value cargo, and aerial surveys are among the many activities that generate economic impact above and beyond traditional business and personal general aviation travel.
The N.C. State study, is in its fourth iteration. The state funded the report to guide future investment in state aviation infrastructure and as a tool for recruiting companies in the aerospace industry. Leading the study is Daniel Findley, program manager for Economic Analysis and Policy Assessment and a Senior Research Associate at ITRE.
Findley’s team discovered that, at the state level, the ten commercial airports and 62 smaller airports contribute more than $52 billion in economic energy, 307,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in state and local tax revenues.
Among the smaller airports, Moore County Airport “punches over its weight” in terms of its economic impact on the community. Moore County Airport hosts several military subcontractors which support Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the U.S. It is quite common to find giant helicopters discreetly buying fuel on the ramp or to observe unmarked Special Forces planes practicing approaches in Moore County’s uncrowded airspace. Moore County Airport is also the location for quiet and dignified transfer ceremonies, where the remains of soldiers and sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice are returned to their families.