Airports Soar Ahead: Airports Have Long Been Recognized as Hubs of Economic Activity, Bringing Jobs, Development, Vitality, and an Expanding Tax Base to Communities. Huntsville International Airport in Alabama Is One Such Economic Growth Engine

By Condon, Nancy | EconSouth, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Airports Soar Ahead: Airports Have Long Been Recognized as Hubs of Economic Activity, Bringing Jobs, Development, Vitality, and an Expanding Tax Base to Communities. Huntsville International Airport in Alabama Is One Such Economic Growth Engine


Condon, Nancy, EconSouth


One of Rick Tucker's childhood memories is of riding in the back of a car for what seemed like an eternity on a small, two-lane road out of Huntsville, Alabama, to watch an air show at the newly built Huntsville Jetport, about 12 miles out of town. Tucker is now grown up and the executive director of that airport built in a 3,000-acre field about midway between Huntsville and Decatur, Alabama. He has been with the organization since 1978 and executive director since 1994, and the airport he remembers from his childhood has grown into a bustling international inland port that ranks 14th in the nation for the transport of international air cargo.

With more than 1.2 million passenger boardings annually, in addition to its critical cargo services, Huntsville's airport is considered a primary commercial service airport by Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) standards. A 2008 report on the airport estimated that it had a total multiplied economic impact of nearly 25,000 jobs and $942.8 million in payroll. Clearly, Huntsville International Airport is no fly-by-night operation.

Additional figures from the report, researched and written for the airport by Niles Schoening, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, include those on direct employment, at the airport (701 jobs) and employment by tenants of the Jetplex Industrial Park (6,334 jobs), as well as employment resulting from construction projects (597 jobs) and from commercial passengers passing through the area (5,314 jobs). It also looks at; the total tax impact, estimated to be $241 million in 2008. The airport--along with an inter modal center and the Jetplex Industrial Park, a 4,000-acre site hosting more than 54 companies from seven countries--is collectively referred to as the Port of Huntsville. The International Intermodal Center has a customs port of entry, which means the airport can bring in cargo directly from overseas, without first bringing it through customs in New York, say, or Miami.

Policymakers, aviation authorities, politicians, economic developers, and others have long affirmed that airports--whether they're general aviation airports located in rural areas, or small-hub commercial service airports like Huntsville's, or commercial mega-airports like Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, arguably the busiest airport in the world--benefit the communities where they are based because they bring jobs and money to the area. "In the same way that the engine is the beating heart of an aircraft, an airport is the economic growrth engine for communities large and small in today's global economy," writes Randy Pope in a report on airports' economic impact for the engineering consulting firm Burns & McDonnell.

Economic impacts of airports in the United States and Southeast

The Economic Impact of Commercial Airports in 2010, an analysis from the Airports Council International-North America, also supports this belief in the value of airports. This report concludes that the total economic output tied to 490 U.S. commercial airports in 2010 was $1.2 trillion. The U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) that year was $14.5 trillion, so the impact of commercial airports amounted to about 8 percent of the country's total GDP. Similarly, the report counts 10.5 million workers associated with commercial airports and their related activity--more than 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce, which was about 139 million at the end of 2010.

Tables 1 and 2 lay out these numbers by category and source. Direct economic impacts reflect payroll, capital expenditures, operating and maintenance costs, taxes, and fees incurred by all service providers at the airport. These providers include airport operators, fixed-based operations (providing fuel and other support for private aircraft), air carriers, freight haulers, concessionaries, government installations, educational institutions, military facilities, flight schools, maintenance operations, and others.

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Airports Soar Ahead: Airports Have Long Been Recognized as Hubs of Economic Activity, Bringing Jobs, Development, Vitality, and an Expanding Tax Base to Communities. Huntsville International Airport in Alabama Is One Such Economic Growth Engine
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