Airport Industry Plays Vital Role in Missouri Economy, Jobs

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COLUMBIA - A recent study released by the Missouri Department of Transportation finds the state's airport industry contributes $11.1 billion to Missouri's economy. 

The economic output generated by the Missouri airport industry accounts for more than four percent of the state's gross product and has continued to grow over the years. 

"Despite the economic recession that started in 2007, economic output for aviation activities in Missouri has grown by 17.1 percent over the last decade," said Bryan Gregory, MoDOT aviation operations manager. "That's remarkable, especially considering the economic downturn. [The increase] was fueled largely by an increase in business aviation, business aircraft using our general aviation and our commercial service airports."

The state is home to 9 commercial airports and 99 general aviation airports, which employ 100,621 workers. But according to Gregory, the airports support more than just direct jobs. 

"Along with airport management, there's also fixed-based operators, which are businesses on the airport that might be a maintenance facility or a flight school," said Gregory. "Those businesses obviously create jobs by the people that are employed there but those also have a spin-off effect on the economy. Along with [the jobs], visitors come into our state airports and will go out and spend money." 

According to MoDOT, nearly 12 million visitors arrived in Missouri via commercial service airports in 2012. The airport industry also transported around 195,000 tons of cargo last year. 

Gregory said the goal of the study was to help cities realize how valuable airports are to local economies. 

"As they get a new city council or they get a new mayor, they often don't realize what impacts those airports have to the community and this helps them to realize what the actual impact is so they know if this is something worth supporting, which we believe it is," Gregory said. 

According to the study, the Columbia Regional Airport supported 745 jobs and generated more than $87 million in 2012. Mike Brooks, president of Regional Economic Development, Incorporated, said he has seen the airport progress and grow over the years.

"I've watched, you know, the Delta service grow, Northwest to Delta, and now with the American, you know, we're seeing some really, really good numbers of people who are using the local airport as their gateway to travel," Brooks said. "That's really important as we go forward because airport service is only going to be available to us if we can in fact support, you know, filling airplanes."

Brooks said the airport's jobs and businesses are assets to the mid-Missouri economy. 

"The people who are paid salaries turn around and spend their money in the community," he said. "That's the basic premises of why economic development exists, I mean that's why we exist, is to get that money coming into the community, paid out in wages, and then people turn around and spend money at retail service and all those different places that you tend to spend your money. Secondly, the airport buys locally. So businesses in town that supply whatever is needed, maintenance equipment, maintenance supplies, etc., that are purchased many times locally and then becomes part of the economy in that regard."

In December, the Columbia Regional Airport and American Airlines announced an additional daily flight to Chicago. City officials also reported it's been nine months since Columbia has had to use money from its Air Service Revenue Guarantee fund to pay American Airlines. Brooks said he expects the airport and its services to continue growing. 

"I'm extremely optimistic about the growth of the airport," Brooks said. "The city and the community put together a guarantee to insure that American would provide service and in the time that they've been here there's only one time that we've had, as a community, to write a check as part of that guarantee. That's a really positive statement that the community is in fact using the Columbia airport as a place to fly in and out of and I'm optimistic that that's going to continue to grow. As the service grows, the people using the service will continue to grow."

The additional flight to Chicago will begin in April. For more information on the Missouri airport industry, visit MoDOT's website.