Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley doesn't have a clue - or doesn't care - about the value of a general aviation airport. But two more enlightened communities to his north do.
The city of Prospect Heights and the village of Wheeling, Illinois, jointly own Palwaukee Municipal Airport (PWK), a vibrant general aviation airport serving the greater Chicago area. Last week, the airport board invited AOPA President Phil Boyer to speak to political leaders and municipal officials from both communities and the Palwaukee Airport Pilots Association about continuing to nurture the resource.
Business and personal use of general aviation creates a $150 billion a year industry, employing more than 1.3 million people.
Nearly 70 percent of all general aviation flights are for business purposes, and companies that use general aviation grow faster and earn almost twice as much as those that don't.
Local airports mean good business for a community as well. A dollar spent on airport improvements generates $6.70 in off-airport economic gains.
The two communities are looking to position PWK as a business gateway to the Chicagoland area. They've even petitioned the FAA to change the name to Chicago Executive Airport.
And while that's a smart idea, "Keep your balance," Boyer cautioned. "Serving corporate aircraft is important, but so is maintaining the flight training and piston-engine flight activity at PWK.
"Airports like Teterboro have discovered too late that favoring the 'heavy iron' to the exclusion of the rest of GA can lead to difficult problems with the surrounding community."
Boyer reminded the officials that many pilots use their aircraft for both personal and business travel, just as they use their family car. Personal flying is an important business for the airport.
And the business of aviation is more than corporate jets, Boyer said. Many manufacturing firms intentionally locate themselves within 10 miles of a public-use airport so that they can exploit the speed and access provided by GA.
Community airports allow local businesses to reach new markets, work with suppliers from neighboring states, or ship time-critical parts and materials to their customers. Local-area businesses gain enduring competitive advantages when they use the nearby airport; at the same time, the surrounding community gains jobs.
October 5, 2006