By Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association
Business aviation – the manufacture and use of mostly small, “general aviation” (GA) aircraft for business transport – encompasses far more than providing companies of all sizes with the flexibility and security that are increasingly necessary to compete in the global marketplace. The term also describes an industry that serves as vital lifeline to communities across the nation and throughout the world, and regularly provides life-saving humanitarian relief to people in hard-to-reach communities around the world.
Community Airports: A Contributor to Towns Nationwide
Business aviation contributes $150 billion annually to the United States economy, and supports 1.2 million stable, high-wage jobs in this country alone. The manufacture of business aircraft is one of the remaining sources of good manufacturing jobs in this country, and one of the remaining industries that contributes positively to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. It is a world-leading sector, producing the kind of jobs we should retain in this country in the 21st century.
It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of companies that rely on business aviation are small and medium-size companies, and equally important, enterprises using business aviation outperform those that do not. Business aviation allows these companies to locate in small communities and rural areas, promoting job creation, and connectivity to the larger cities.
With a business airplane, company representatives are able to visit three cities in single day, instead of one city in three days, while also utilizing the travel time in a more productive and secure manner than an airline seat might allow. Even during lean economic times, a business aircraft allows companies to survive and prosper by optimizing resources.
However, business aviation comprises much more than what many people might typically consider “business.” Our industry also encompasses life-saving air ambulance services, flying medical patients in need of immediate, emergency care at local hospitals, and the transport of others to specialized facilities across the country.
Additionally, through volunteer organizations like Angel Flight, Air Care Alliance and Corporate Angel Network, companies and pilots regularly provide life-saving services, often to people in hard-to-reach communities.
Community Airports: Critical in the National Airspace System
While the industry serves many roles, every aspect of business aviation depends on the thousands of secondary and tertiary airports in countless communities across America, which are often termed “GA” airfields.
Business aviation is not unique in relying on these vital facilities; indeed, one of our nation’s greatest strengths is the size, diversity, efficiency and safety of our aviation system, and these attributes would simply not be possible without a robust network of GA airports throughout the country.
These local airports support flights not just for small and mid-sized businesses, but also for schools, universities, emergency medical services, postal services, homeland-security, law-enforcement and military operations, fire-fighting teams, and other government and private-sector service providers.
The airports are local economic engines, bringing people and goods from communities to national and global markets, stimulating local economic growth. The activity generated by flights through these airports helps generate additional billions of dollars of U.S. economic output each year.
The value of these aviation facilities is why Congress regularly allocates funding to maintain and improve these airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also provides additional financial support through grants offered by the Airport Improvement Program, or AIP, while the American taxpayers contribute for those investments through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The individuals and companies using the airports also contribute to the cost of their operation, through fueling fees and other charges.
As important as it is to ensure that these vital resources are adequately supported at the national level, it is equally important that city leaders and other local officials recognize the significant benefits that their community airports play in bringing vital social, humanitarian, and economic benefits to their constituents.
We at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) strongly believe that airports should be good neighbors and should work with communities to maintain a balance between the needs of aviation, the environment and the surrounding residences. However, over the years, attempts have been made to create new restrictions and impediments for aviation users through airport curfews, and other local initiatives to restrict access to airports – or, to shut them down completely.
Every day, the NBAA joins with other aviation groups and industry stakeholders in combating attempts to restrict access to local airports. It is imperative that all airports be operated as part of a single, national aviation-transportation system, not a patchwork quilt of operating policies, based on isolated local issues.
Business Aviation Flies Where Airlines Do Not
Of the more than 5,000 public use airports in the United States, only about 500 have commercial airline service – and of those 500, the majority of airline flights are concentrated among 70 major hubs.
Where airline service is minimal, or non-existent, business aviation often provides not just the most prudent transportation option, but sometimes the only transportation option. In other words, for many communities in America not served by the airlines, there is simply no way “to get there from here” without business aviation.
Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, critical airport infrastructure is being shuttered, or attempts are being made to close important airports, even when federal investments and assistance have been provided to ensure these airports meet national economic and other priorities.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen: federal funding commitments are made based on an established understanding that a given airport will remain in operation, and such commitments need to be upheld. More importantly, however, is the undeniable truth that when a small community loses its GA airport, it loses far more than a runway and some hangars; a critical lifeline, and an economic engine supporting every resident in the area, disappears along with it.
Business Aviation and GA Airports: Learn More
NBAA’s 2014 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA 2014) offers the opportunity to learn much more about the industry’s essential role in, and contributions to, America’s economy, as well as the importance of maintaining general aviation facilities. Business aviation professionals from across the United States and around the world will meet October 21-23 in Orlando, FL to discuss the important issues affecting the industry, and to set the stage for the year ahead in business aviation.
Featuring a robust slate of Exhibits and new product displays at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), and a range of education sessions, philanthropic events and other activities, NBAA 2014 offers the premier opportunity to review new products and services on the exhibit floor, meet and interact with exhibitors, and assess new aircraft and products.
This year’s event will also feature an indoor static display of aircraft – the first of its kind for an NBAA event in Orlando – as well as an outdoor, side-by-side display of nearly 100 aircraft at nearby Orlando Executive Airport (ORL.)
Attendees at NBAA 2014 will include top decision-makers in the industry. They will enjoy the valuable opportunity to hear high-level, influential government and industry figures discuss matters affecting business aviation.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the convention will also provide the chance to experience the diverse composite of people and companies that comprise the industry, and will expose to show-goers the many functions that business aviation serves across the world today.
In addition to attending NBAA 2014, I encourage the Expansion Solutions readership to learn more about the vital and varied roles that business aviation plays in communities across the country through the “No Plane No Gain” campaign, available at www.noplanenogain.org.
Jointly sponsored by NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), No Plane No Gain serves to educate and inform policymakers and opinion leaders about the positive contributions of business aviation, while combating the negative perceptions of the industry. Since its creation in 2009, in the darkest days of the global economic downturn, “No Plane No Gain” has found a receptive audience with lawmakers and advocates across the country.
Community airports and business aviation are national assets, and they must continue to be supported. I look forward to continuing a discussion with readers of Expansion Solutions about the importance of local airports, and the numerous missions, industries, and enterprises that they support.
About the Author:
Ed Bolen has been president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) since September 2004. Prior to joining NBAA, Bolen was president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for eight years. He has served on a U.S. Presidential Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, and a Presidential Council that made recommendations to government on national aviation planning. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Flight Safety Foundation and the Board of Directors of the National Aeronautic Association. He also serves on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of The National Academies.