When most people think of aviation, they often think of Chicago, commercial service and O’Hare International Airport.
But there is so much more. Throughout the rest of the state, there are close to 98 general aviation airports that connect hundreds of communities. Medevacs, blood banks and law enforcement use small aircraft to transport people, supplies and survey neighborhoods.
General aviation contributes more than $9 billion to the state’s total economic output and supports more than 42,000 jobs. Specifically, companies of all sizes use general aviation to conduct business more efficiently, travel to meet with customers and suppliers, deliver parts and tools quickly, and travel to places without commercial service.
Local airports and the aviation industry also offer promising careers and job growth. Training and degree programs like the ones at Lewis University, Parkland College and Southern Illinois University, just to name a few, are teaching young people to be pilots and mechanics. And this industry supports the passion for flight as well. From 1910, when a group of flying enthusiasts founded the Aero Club of Illinois at Cicero Field, to the current City of Chicago Air & Water Show and Wings Over Waukegan, aviation connects communities and inspires people of all ages.
General aviation also is critical to transporting patients and their families seeking medical treatment. Organizations such as Lifeline Pilots, based in Peoria, fly patients and their families to specialized medical treatment centers in and around the region.
For example, recently, a volunteer pilot flew a 1-year-old boy and his family from the St. Louis area to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for life-saving heart surgery. The boy had a compromised immune system, preventing him from traveling on a commercial flight. General aviation and the generosity of volunteer pilots made this treatment and flights like this possible.
But this may not always be the case. In Washington, some have proposed taking away governance over our air traffic system away from Congress and putting it under a board of directors that would be dominated by the big airlines. This board would dominate decisions about fees, routes and what airports get invested in. This type of system would likely leave smaller communities left out – the same communities that have seen their routes cut by 20 percent during the last several years.
Right now, our air transportation system is the busiest, the largest and the most diverse in the world. Thousands of airports serve millions of passengers and communities large and small. Let’s keep it that way and make sure our aviation system stays open for business to everyone.
• Tom Cleveland is the president of the Illinois Public Airports Association and the manager of DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport.