By David Williams
When you think about the heart of a community, you might think of City Hall or Main Street. To me, the heart of my hometown is our local airport. Not only is it a hub for businesses like mine that depend on general aviation, but it keeps our community connected.
My business serves a niche market: I repair industrial equipment that creates thermal form packaging. From hot dogs and deli meats in your grocery store to sterile medical materials in hospitals, these massive machines can run out 30,000 packages each shift. That's why if one breaks down, it can cost a company around $60,000 a day. Because I can fly to almost any location in the Lower 48 in my small aircraft, I can provide immediate response and reduce their downtime.
I've flown to call-outs as far as El Paso, Miami, even Portland, Maine. I live 2 miles from Lee's Summit Municipal Airport. Now if I get an emergency call from North Carolina, I can be in the sky first thing in the morning, reach the plant, and be working on the machines by 9:30 AM. I can also carry my equipment and any spare parts I might need in the plane. I couldn't do that if I relied on commercial aviation or driving.
I'm fortunate to have a thriving local airport that I can easily access whenever my business demands. Lee's Summit Municipal Airport brings many different types of businesses to our town: from construction, manufacturing, and fabrication to fast food, software, and sales, countless industries rely on the airport. These businesses, in turn, bring economic growth and new opportunities. Across Missouri, general aviation airports support an economic impact of over $857 million annually and 7,449 local jobs. Lee's Summit is working to expand our runway to allow bigger planes to land so we can bring even more businesses to the area.
Local airports like Lee's Summit aren't just important business assets, but a hub for important quality of life services for their community. I've seen law enforcement like the Highway Patrol, air ambulances, the National Guard, even news helicopters at our airport. Fixed wing and rotor aircraft transport patients in emergencies and donor organs and blood for our two hospitals. Local airports also act as community centers, hosting aviation programs and career days for local schools, meetings for groups like Lions and Kiwanis, and pancake breakfasts. General aviation ensures that all towns have the same access to services and opportunities at the metropolitan hubs.
General aviation is at the center of so many communities like ours. That's why I'm concerned by a proposal in DC to privatize our air traffic control system. The big airlines are pushing Congress to remove air traffic control from the FAA and give this asset to a private board that would be dominated by these same interests. This board would be making decisions about access, investment in small airports, and the costs of using the system. I worry that these airlines who are earning their highest profits in decades by burying passengers in fees are trying to pass higher costs along to small operators. Would these commercial interests invest in community airports or focus on the commercial hubs they control? General aviation and local airports are assets for their communities. We shouldn't risk that.
David Williams is the Owner and Vice President of Williams Consulting & Engineering, based in Lee's Summit.