When we think of aviation, it is often of large airports, like Pittsburgh International. But the fact is that for hundreds of communities in Pennsylvania and thousands across the country, smaller airports and aircraft are a lifeline for our economy. Across the Commonwealth and our region, over 120 public-use airports rely on general aviation to serve our communities. In addition, while these airports support large corporations, 85% of the companies that depend on these aircraft and airports are small- to mid-sized businesses.
For example, I think of a window and door manufacturer, based about 40 miles north of Harrisburg, that relies on business aviation to visit many locations in one day.
Just recently, the sales team had planned to visit six clients, four in North Carolina and two in Georgia, over the course of a few days. Without general aviation, it would have taken them 12 hours to drive between locations, not to mention the travel time to and from Pennsylvania.
In addition, I think of another company that works in natural resources, building and maintaining oil and natural gas pipelines. General aviation is crucial for the development and maintenance of these pipelines, which are often located in rural parts of the state, far from commercial airports.
For engineers, who are often transporting equipment and parts, the accessibility and versatility that is general aviation allows them to reach and maintain or repair equipment.
This access is especially valuable for businesses in industries where work sites are fixed locations and often in rural areas — industries like agriculture, construction, timber, energy and resource extraction, as well as flight training and tourism.
All told in the Pittsburgh area, general aviation airports contribute more than $700 million in economic impact each year. This network of airports and aircraft is also crucial for medical care and critical services.
During the pandemic, volunteer pilots have transported personal protection equipment (PPE), medical supplies, ventilators and test samples across the country.
For example, hundreds of Angel Flight East pilots have transported over 3,600 pounds of hand sanitizer and more than 3,000 face shields to rural hospitals across the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Great Lakes regions.
Now, general aviation aircraft are being used across the country to help transport COVID-19 vaccines. However, we also need to support the growth of this industry, particularly during this time when our leaders are considering investments in infrastructure. For example, the general aviation industry is investing heavily in sustainable aviation fuel tax credits and technology, which have the potential to further spur growth and jobs.
In addition, developments in advanced air mobility have the potential to revolutionize aviation and travel by improving efficiency, reducing noise and congestion, and enhancing access to services for communities around the country.
However, industries and businesses cannot shoulder these investments by themselves and need federal support for these incentives.
General aviation and our network of airports are an important part of our national infrastructure. As we think about our future infrastructure needs, let’s keep small aircraft and local airports in mind so we cannot only recover, but build a stronger economic future for companies and communities of all sizes.
Chris Heck is president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.