Count the state of Tennessee as a believer. In fiscal 2006, $36 million was spent on general aviation for small airports. That breaks down as $19 million from the state, $14 million from federal grant money and $3 million from local sources.
Airports also generate direct financial benefits for their communities as well.
"Airports mean business," Millington's Williams says, adding that her airport alone "supports about 100 full-time jobs. It supports about $4.5 million in income (and has) a $14 million total economic impact on the region."
All of the airport managers agree that a major advantage they have is that they are not Memphis International. They say the crowded airspace there, and the tighter, federally mandated security, make their facilities more attractive.
"The hassle factor doesn't exist here," Williams said.
At privately owned Olive Branch Airport, manager David Taylor has seen a lot in his 24 years there. His airport is the most active general aviation facility in the area. He believes competition among the smaller airports in the Mid-South has naturally led to specialization.
"West Memphis has a lot of freighters," he said. "Millington has a lot of military. We have a lot of business aircraft. Tunica has people in the gaming industry coming in there, so we've all got our little niche."
One thing small general aviation airports are working hard to change is their image. Most people, if they think of them at all, regard them as places where doctors, lawyers and business owners park the planes they own and fly them on weekends.
Not these days, Taylor said.
"Your little general aviation airports, those maybe more rural than we are, have an image as a playground of the rich in that community," he said.
"Here it's a little different. Naturally, we've got a lot of rich people using our facility. But they're not playing, they're working."
- Richard Kelley: 529-2300
Airing the benefits
A National Air Transportation Association study in 1999 of the nation's general aviation airports estimated that annual economic benefits were:
Tennessee: $3 billion, 49,000 jobs.
Mississippi: $90 million, 1,380 jobs.
Arkansas: $369 million, 6,067 jobs.
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