Tom Haines

Urban vs. rural America and the airport debate

September 17, 2009 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

In a pivotal moment in U.S. politics, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said to President Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.” This time instead of debating health care reform as Reagan and Carter were¬†(how’s that for irony from 1980?), it’s the Air Transport Association once again feeding disinformation about general aviation to a naive general media. ATA, which represents the airlines, spun up a few statistics about funding for general aviation airports and USAToday gobbled them up without bothering to question the source, resulting in a far less than balanced story that has done incredible damage to general aviation and the jobs it creates. The USAToday reporter did bother to contact AOPA, but then chose to ignore any input from our media relations staff. Be sure to read the comments on the USAToday story. Many of them are from pilots critical of the inaccurate reporting.

Of course, other media picked up the story, including USAToday partner, the NBC Today Show, which aired a nearly as misbalanced piece.

AOPA responded immediately with a statement and a story on our Home page.

Fortunately, as noted in the AOPA story, some local media also picked up on the story and then found out that their local airports really are an asset.

Unfortunately, what the major national media like to focus on is the perceived class war between “rich pilots” and the rest of the world. Never mind that pilots every day fly thousands of volunteer mercy missions from GA airports for man and animal. Firefighting flights depart from remote strips to reach forest fires. Yes, those airports–along with the airline airports–receive funding from the FAA–most of it provided by fuel and passenger taxes paid by GA pilots and airline passengers. Little of it from the general fund. Similar formulas fund the U.S. highway system.

To a certain extent, this is a case of not just a misperception about “rich pilots,” but also a misperception by the majority of people who live near urban centers about the rest of the population, which lives outside the beltway.

For rural communities many highway miles from the nearest airline airport, small airports are their only link to the rest of the world. As pointed out in the USAToday comments, a mile of highway gets you a mile. A mile of runway gets you anywhere. Ask the taxpaying U.S. citizens in rural America which they would rather have and I’ll bet the answer will universally be a mile of runway.

7 Responses to “Urban vs. rural America and the airport debate”

  1. shelley Says:

    Amen! A rural community with an airport and a hospital becomes more sustainable. I am on the airport commission because of its value to community devlopment.
    We would like longer runway for many reasons all economic. We also have 500 acres of developable land for airport related industry with new sewer and water. Our advantage
    Is our location near California but in tax friendly Nevada. Hawthorne Airport is our anchor for future jobs. The author is dead on any of us would love a mile (or more) of airport

  2. Stephen Wilson Says:

    Flight training, is at it’s lowest point in 44 years of such record keeping. Marketing efforts are practically non-existent at small aviation businesses that serve and would be the promoters of the value of general aviation to local communities. AOPA’s extraordinary efforts and industry partnerships, like GA Team 2000 (Be A in the late ’90s fizzled out as the economy turned south. Unless flight training becomes more attractive a business and more affordable for students, and soon, we can predict the end of public access to light general aviation in our lifetime. Pilots and planes are already old. An affordable Cessna’s 162 Skycatcher with new enticing learn-to-fly promotions cannot come soon enough.

  3. Parth Says:

    Tom – great point towards the end… This is *exactly* the economic argument we need to make to taxpayers: How much does it cost to build and maintain a mile of runway vs. three hundred miles or more of highway?

    Here’s what I found through a quick Google search. On MI DOT website: A mile of freeway through an urban area costs approximately $39 million, while a mile of freeway through a rural area costs approximately $8 million.

    So how much does it cost to build a mile of runway? A fast search came up from between $10m with non precision approach to $1.2B (for ATL’s 9000ft new runway — but we’re not taking GA here).

    Certainly need to do more thorough research to quantify this, that the fine folks at AOPA are capable of, but it seems to me the taxpayer’s response would stack solidly in GA’s favor as Tom you’ve written.

  4. Jim Hackman Says:

    Back in the 60’s when Gov Rhodes of Ohio decided all 88 counties should have an airport, he asked the Director of Aviation the cost difference vs good secondary road.
    Norm Crabtree replied, “Itt costs a lot more to build secondary road ! ” Ohio has a business jet capable runway in every county. No airport = No industry.
    Steve Wilson is correct about the state of the flight training industry. Without Be A Pilot or some very similar national campaign, there is little hope. It’s marketing, not cost. If cost was the issue, we’d still be flying 150’s and Colts.

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