The public’s impression of business aviation—fat cats flying around in luxurious jets—often deters companies from pursuing the benefits that aircraft can offer. In an effort to help business leaders understand the utility and importance of general aviation, the Florida Aviation Trades Association (FATA) invited the public to a special panel discussion June 16 during its annual conference in St. Augustine.
After just a 90-minute discussion, the community members and business leaders from the Jacksonville and St. Augustine areas walked away from the meeting with a new perspective. About 80 people attended the panel discussion; half were local residents. According to FATA Executive Director Paula Raeburn, most said that they had no idea GA encompassed so much. And that’s one of the reactions Raeburn was hoping for with the launch of the new panel discussion, “Beyond the runway: Why general aviation means business.”
“If we can’t get them as clients,” Raeburn said, “we can certainly get them to be our advocates.” Raeburn explained that the more the public understands GA and hears the stories of its pilots and aircraft serving local communities and improving the economy, the more likely they will be to stick up for the industry when negative publicity surfaces.
During the panel discussion, the public and aviation community learned about the economic impact St. Augustine Airport has on the town, the value of Angel Flight Southeast and volunteer flying, the benefits of charter services, and business and emergency GA operations.
AOPA Florida Regional Representative Nelson Rhodes, who attended the conference, pointed out that in addition to hearing the personal stories of how pilots use their aircraft as tools to benefit the community and businesses, they also learned about the impact it has on the state’s economy.
A Florida Department of Transportation Aviation Office economic impact study completed in March breaks down the employment, payroll, and total economic output of each commercial and GA airport in the state. GA accounts for 54,250 jobs and $6 billion in annual economic activity. Aviation-related businesses on and off airports represent 35,986 jobs and $5.3 billion in annual economic activity, according to the study.
“This was a tremendous outreach effort by the Florida Aviation Trades Association,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy. “We need to tell GA’s story to the public any way we can, and this should serve as a model of success for all states.”