Pilots looking for ways to raise community awareness of general aviation’s place in the social fabric of their communities might look to the example of a Virginia airport that invited “the neighbors” to come in to get acquainted on Oct. 22.
Winchester Regional Airport “serves as the front door to the community” where local aviation history is grounded in an airshow that took place during a 1931 Apple Blossom Festival, according to the website of Winchester’s airport. The airport is owned and managed by the Winchester Regional Airport Authority, which was established by legislation in 1987 and is made up of the city of Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, and Warren.
Contrary to the idea that GA airports serve only a few users, “the efficient movement of people, goods, ideas and services through our airport help move the wheels of government, the economy, and society and provide direct benefits to the surrounding community, even those that never leave the ground,” Sabo said in remarks prepared for the event.
He described how community airports benefit from state and federal grants that multiply the impact of local funding. “For every dollar contributed at the local level by member jurisdictions, the airport receives $49 worth of work. This illustrates the incredible return on investment of capital contributions,” he said.
Williams pointed out that the airport does not charge a ramp fee for aircraft weighing less than 8,000 pounds and waives a small overnight parking fee with a five-gallon fuel purchase.
A local aviation economy is only as competitive as local government policy allows, however, and a recent increase in an annual personal property tax levied on owners of aircraft based at the airport “could put the airport at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
Sabo also addressed the issue in his remarks, noting that, “As stakeholders we must consider how this tax rate may impact an individual’s or business’ decision to choose Winchester over neighboring airports such as Leesburg or Manassas.”
Williams pursued the discussion of the economic contributions of GA airports with business, government, and community leaders who attended the event, and said the expo served as a textbook example of how local aviation advocates could present aviation to the public.
“AOPA has always encouraged airports to stay engaged with community leaders so they understand the value of their airport,” he said. “By educating your local officials, you’re helping them make better decisions for the airport, its users, and the overall community.”
“Other airports could replicate this event,” he added.