Vance Bryce
Arizona opinion: Aerial advantage: General aviation is vital for state
March 7, 2024
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  • The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

    In the expansive landscape of Arizona, general aviation is not merely a mode of transportation; it’s a fundamental pillar supporting our local economy. As the executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, I am uniquely positioned to see just how important general aviation is in enhancing the economic vitality of our region.
    Take, for example, one of our chamber members: Kip Kempton of Kempton Chevrolet in Graham County. For Kip, regular travel to car auctions across the region is essential for maintaining his inventory and staying abreast of market trends. Traditionally, such trips to places like Las Vegas would involve an exhaustive 16-hour round-trip drive, translating into at least two full business days lost. However, with the efficiency of general aviation, Kip reduces this journey to a mere three-hour round trip. This doesn’t just save time, it transforms how businesses in our region operate. By turning multi-day trips into single-day errands, general aviation allows business owners like Kip to spend more time focusing on their businesses and serving the community, and less time on the road. This kind of efficiency is incredibly important for small and medium-sized enterprises which form the bedrock of our local economy.

    General aviation in Arizona is essential for many sectors like construction and land management, where it provides crucial access to remote job sites. Its flexibility allows businesses to efficiently conduct sales and client meetings and transport technical experts or vital parts to project sites, avoiding delays. Particularly in rural areas, general aviation offers direct, point-to-point travel, bypassing geographical barriers and enhancing business efficiency. General aviation’s adaptability, offering far more flexibility than commercial flights, is indispensable for varied worksites and open-ended itineraries, demonstrating its vital role in supporting dynamic business operations. This improved access and operational flexibility provided by general aviation not only fosters business growth and market reach, but also stimulates local economies, fostering community development that ensures the vibrancy and economic sustainability of Arizona’s rural towns.

    The economic contribution of general aviation in Arizona is substantial. According to the 2021 Arizona Aviation Economic Impact Study, general aviation airports support an impact of $3.3 billion annually to our economy. Airports like Safford Regional in Graham County are pivotal hubs of economic activity, enabling businesses to access wider markets and fuel regional growth. In fact, in a survey of air-reliant businesses for the economic impact study, respondents reported that they would have to reduce their workforce by half and revenues would decrease by over 60% without access to an airport.

    General aviation is also crucial for firefighting in Arizon
    a, playing key roles in aerial reconnaissance, transporting firefighters and equipment, and direct firefighting with water or retardant drops. Its quick deployment is vital for tackling wildfires in remote areas and coordinating rapid responses. The Gila District Fire Management Zone, which includes the Safford office, is a testament to the indispensability of general aviation in handling emergencies across Arizona. With an average of 27 fires a year, the zone relies heavily on general aviation for effective and swift firefighting. Beyond firefighting, it’s critical for medical and police operations, border enforcement and natural disaster response, underscoring its versatility and importance in public safety and emergency preparedness in Arizona.

    General aviation stands as a cornerstone of Arizona’s economic framework, particularly critical for the prosperity of communities throughout our vast state. In my role, I see its pivotal role in connecting businesses, sustaining jobs, providing emergency management, and fostering commerce. With the long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization having ended in September, and the sector relying on short-term extensions in the meantime, we need Congress to pass long-term FAA reauthorization to ensure predictability and continuity in operations. This legislation is essential for our businesses, communities, and Arizona’s economy.