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Economic Importance

The Economic Importance of Virginia’s Airports

            The Commonwealth of Virginia’s diverse system of airports, including Virginia Highlands Airport (VJI), plays a vital role in the state and regional economies by creating jobs and contributing to overall community development. In addition, airports in Virginia serve as a gateway to the nation’s air transportation system and the world’s economy.

            Virginia’s system of 66 public-use airports provides the Commonwealth with a safe and efficient means of transportation as well as stimulates economic growth and development. By providing aviation-related services, the system supports more than a quarter million jobs and generates billions of dollars in economic activity while meeting the air travel needs of Virginia residents, businesses and visitors.

  • Virginia’s airports contribute $28.8 billion in economic activity to the Virginia economy, which represents 4.4% of the state’s total economic output.
  • Approximately 259,000 jobs are created and sustained by Virginia airports. This represents 5.5% of total jobs in Virginia.
  • $11.1 billion in payroll is realized as a result of jobs created by Virginia airports.
  • On a daily basis, over 6,000 aircraft take-off from and land at Virginia airports.
  • Each day, approximately 23,000 visitors arrive in the state by commercial airline or general aviation aircraft.
  • Each job at Virginia’s airports supports an additional seven jobs in the state.
  • Every $1 spent at a Virginia airport contributes an additional $3.48 in economic activity for Virginia.
  • Virginia’s general aviation airports, including Virginia Highlands Airport, produce $722 of economic activity for every aircraft take-off and landing.
  • A 2011 Economic Impact Study reported Virginia Highlands Airport supported 70 jobs with annual payroll of over $2.2M

         Virginia Highlands Airport is part of The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) which is submitted to Congress in accordance with Section 47103 of Title 49 of the United States Code. The plan identifies 3,380 public-use airports that are significant to national air transportation and, therefore, eligible to receive grants under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP). AIP programs in the Commonwealth of Virginia are funded 90% with FAA funds, 8% from funds from the Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV) and 2% from local funds.

            The aviation system is a self-funded system. Funds for airport and airway development DO NOT come from an individual’s income tax or real estate tax or sales tax. The taxes to fund the system come from users of the airports and airways.

            FAA funds are provided by the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, created by Congress in 1970 through the Airport and Airway Development and Revenue Act. Revenues are derived from aviation-related excise taxes on passengers, cargo and fuel. Users of the aviation system pay for the system.

            The Airport Capital Program is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s funding program used to provide funding assistance to airport sponsors for capital development projects at Virginia’s public-use airports. The funds come from excise tax on aviation fuel, sales tax on aircraft and license fees. The users of the aviation system pay for the system.

            Locally, the funds provided by Washington County for capital improvement projects at Virginia Highlands Airport come from personal property taxes assessed on the aircraft based at the airport. Usually this is around $300T each year. The funds requested by the Airport Authority to relocate Route 611 and to extend the runway will be paid for with taxes collected on aircraft based at Virginia Highlands Airport and from funds provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  Washington County does not provide operational funding for the airport. Operational expenses are funded through fuel sales and hangar rents collected by the airport. The users of the aviation system pay for the system.

            A number of years ago the leaders in Washington County and the Airport Authority became aware of the need to extend the runway at Virginia Highlands Airport. Washington County lost a large and lucrative industry because of the short runway and business aircraft were taking their business to other airports with longer runways. This situation continues today. The Airport Authority has been successful in attracting business aircraft to locate here by maintaining first-class facilities and providing navigational aids and amenities to the aviation industry. Of the 57 general aviation airports in Virginia only one other airport has more based business jet aircraft. The business aircraft based at Virginia Highlands contribute a significant amount to the county tax base while providing the operators with safe and rapid access to the national air transportation system.

            Virginia Highlands Airport has the shortest runway length of any public-use airport in Virginia with 4 or more based jet aircraft. Also, Virginia Highlands Airport has the highest field elevation of any airport in Virginia with 4 or more based jet aircraft. Virginia Highlands Airport has just completed a $1M obstruction removal project to enhance the safety of departing and arriving aircraft. Based on the runway length and field-elevation the airport needs to continue with its safety enhancement program to lengthen the runway to serve existing and future business aircraft demand. 5,500 feet is the requirement for 75% of the business aircraft fleet assuming a 60% useful load.

            To date the amount spent for the runway extension project totals about $2,020,000.00. This amount includes environmental assessment expenses and land acquisition. The environmental assessment expenses were paid for with FAA and DOAV entitlement funds and 2% local funds generated by the airport.

            Virginia Highlands Airport is not only home for business aircraft but serves as home for about 55 other private and government aircraft. VJI is home for one of only two Virginia State Police aviation units that provides 24 hour law enforcement service and emergency medical helicopter transportation service. Also the Virginia Department of Forestry has a base of operations during fire season at VJI. VJI is the point of arrival and departure for visitors headed for Bristol races, the Barter Theater, the Creeper Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or one of our local world-class golf courses or one of the many other great attractions in the local area.

            The FAA and Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV) have long realized the critical role a modern airport plays in the economic development of a community. Entitlement funds and discretionary funds provided by FAA and DOAV are highly sought after by communities all across Virginia. Fortunately the Virginia Highlands Airport Authority and Washington County have been diligent in obtaining and using these funds in years past to provide the County with a first-class general aviation airport. It would be a disgrace to see future funds re-directed to another community when they could best be used here to continue to make Washington County a leader in aviation in the State.

            In summary, for the Route 611 relocation project, Virginia Department of Transportation will provide 50 cents for each dollar of the project and the county will provide 50 cents, paid for with personal property tax assessed on aircraft based at the airport. FAA and DOAV will pay 98% of the design and engineering cost. And, for every $2.00 spent on Airport Improvement Projects at Virginia Highlands Airport the FAA and DOAV will provide $98.00. With this funding scenario both projects will result in a win-win for the citizens of Washington County.