As someone who is actively involved in your local airport, you know the benefits that community airports provide. General aviation (GA) carries 170 million passengers more than 3 billion miles each year, with an annual economic impact of $247 billion.
Airports Under Fire
Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates the value of local airports. The non-flying community, elected officials, and the news media often propagate misinformation about GA. Issues related to airport safety, security, and noise can lead to calls for restrictions or even airport closure.
- Sobering statistics—The number of public-use airports has declined dramatically in recent decades. More than 7,000 community airports thrived in the early 1970s. Today, that number has dwindled to about 5,000. Although the rate of airport closures has slowed since the advent of the ASN program, we continue to lose a number of community airports each year.
Issues related to airport safety, security, and noise can lead to calls for restrictions or even airport closure.
Role of the ASN Program
AOPA’s Airport Support Network was launched in 1997—amid the battle to save Meigs Field—as a front-line force that could anticipate threats to local airports and work proactively to ensure that public-use airfields are valued by the communities they serve.
Since the Airport Support Network was founded, volunteers like you have helped save numerous airports. A few examples are provided below. With your help, we can log many more ASN success stories and stem the tide of airport closures in the U.S.
- North Perry Airport (HWO)—On Christmas Eve in 2018, a member of the Pembroke Pines, Florida, City Council sent a letter to Mayor Ortis asking the city council to consider redeveloping the North Perry airport. This airport had served as a WWII training base and today is home to more than 30 businesses and 270 aircraft. Even though North Perry airport is a very active general aviation airport in South Florida and provides strong economic impact to the community, the councilman’s letter outlined the high value of the airport property, its close proximity to the Florida Turnpike, and how it could be developed into residential/retail use. This letter motivated ASN volunteer Anthony “Tony” Restaino to shift into high gear, mobilizing local pilots, business owners, aviation organizations, and the community. Our volunteer quickly called the AOPA regional manager and before New Year's Eve had organized the local pilots and airport business owners to discuss this threat to the airport. The North Perry Airport Community Association (NPACA) was officially formed and a coordinated strategy of meetings and letters to city and county leaders was implemented. This strategy and the commitment of the local pilots and business owners paid off! By February 2019, the county executive and the Pembroke Pines mayor had publicly proclaimed their strong support for the North Perry Airport, effectively killing any agenda to study redevelopment. Today, the North Perry airport thrives and NPACA hosts annual community events at the airport.
- Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport (DET)—In 2005, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick cut $2.5 million from the city’s annual budget for Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport, and the airport director announced his intention to lay off all 16 of the employees responsible for maintenance and operations. That’s when ASN volunteer Euel Kinsey mounted an educational campaign to protect the airport. Kinsey teamed with airport workers and tenants, talked with city council members, and educated the local community through National Public Radio and The Detroit News. He cited the airport’s role as a gateway to the city for the thousands who attended the Major League Baseball 2005 All-Star game and those expected to flock to the 2006 Super Bowl. The city council subsequently submitted a budget that included the $2.5 million and overrode the mayor’s veto. Layoff plans were curtailed and a new plan to expand revenue was developed. Kinsey’s local ties to the city—his business and aircraft are located in Detroit—undoubtedly contributed to his successful effort.
- Albert Whitted Airport (SPG)—Historic Albert Whitted Airport in Florida has been an important part of St. Petersburg’s transportation system for more than 75 years. This busy reliever for Tampa, St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Sarasota International airports was threatened in 2003 when a small group of local activists pushed for a ballot referendum that would have closed the waterfront airport and converted half the property into a park. That’s when ASN volunteer Jack Tunstill, two local support groups, and AOPA teamed to educate the voting public on the value of their airport. Tunstill gave three or more speeches a day to civic groups and was a major spokesman for the airport in the media. The Albert Whitted Preservation Society held an air show at the airport to help promote it to the community. AOPA hired a local political consultant to develop a sound strategy and follow it through to Election Day. The efforts paid off: By a 3-to-1 margin, St. Petersburg residents voted to keep the airport open “in perpetuity” and continue accepting federal grants that obligate the city to maintain the airport.
Volunteers like you have helped save numerous airports.
Going Higher: America’s Community Airports
In this mini-documentary we cover four distinctly different airports in central Florida—each offering their own contributions to the community.