by Jerry Chism
“A mile of highway will take you a mile down the road, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere in the world.” –Author unknown
On any given day in Arkansas, hundreds of airplanes pass overhead, often going unnoticed by the busy population below. It seems that many people are too busy or just so accustomed to the sound of an airplane overhead that they seldom even notice them.
While aviation is certainly a normal part of everyday life, the important role it plays in our modern world bears mentioning. A healthy aviation system is absolutely essential in helping communities compete in a global market. Aviation is more than just airplanes, although they are certainly a significant part and, arguably, the most visible.
A well-maintained system of airports is the foundation of a statewide transportation network. Airports are the link between customers, industry, and the communities they serve. Unfortunately, there is – among some – a mind-set that the local airport is simply “a playground for the rich,” a place where wealthy individuals can go to play with their expensive toys. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, every Arkansan benefits from an effective and efficient airport system. Even if you don’t know where your local airport is located (maybe you’ve never even been there), you and your community are the beneficiaries of the goods and services that are only capable of being obtained by the use of an airport.
Every day, all across our state, airports are being used to deliver items to manufacturing facilities in a timely manner to prevent production delays. Visitors are arriving to take advantage of the natural beauty and outdoor opportunities that Arkansas has to offer or to spend money at local businesses and restaurants. Local community protection providers such as police, fire and rescue, and air ambulance services make daily use of the airport as they help keep their communities safe and healthy. Finally, when a company is considering locations for their new facility, they don’t arrive on Greyhound – they fly. “Time is money” and aviation maximizes the efficiency of time spent travelling to numerous destinations.
Aviation and airports also play a major role is supporting Arkansas’ economy. Airports across the state generate billions of dollars of economic activity, create and support thousands of jobs and ensure the health, safety and welfare of the residents of our state. The 90 public-owned/public-use airports in Arkansas provide just under 42,500 jobs with $1.5 billion in payroll and generate just over $3.5 billion in economic activity annually.
Ensuring that Arkansas airports are safe and well-suited to serve the communities where they are located is the responsibility of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Division of Aeronautics. The Division of Aeronautics also coordinates the aviation planning efforts between local, state and federal governments and works closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that Arkansas airports maximize federal funding and remain a vital part of the National Airspace System. The Division of Aeronautics also administers the State Airport Aid Grant program. This program helps provide funding for airport improvement projects at all public airports across the state and is essential to small community airports, as most would not be able to maintain their airports in a safe manner without the help these grants provide. The grant program is funded entirely from special revenue – no state general revenue is used. This funding is derived from state sales tax on the sale of aircraft, aviation fuel and aviation parts and services. You can learn more about the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Division of Aeronautics and their grant program on their website at www.fly.arkansas.gov.
Supporting aviation is something that all Arkansans should do, whether they fly every day, or have never been in an airplane or to an airport. A great airport system ensures a strong Arkansas economy and our role in a worldwide marketplace.
Jerry Chism is the director of the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Division of Aeronautics.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.