Time to spotlight state’s vital asset

By Kandace Harvey

Earlier this year, a boy hiking with his family became stuck on a rock while hiking near Gold Bar. The story was reported in the Everett Herald, Seattle Times, and local TV stations, and caught national attention. In the end, the child was brought to safety due to the heroic efforts of the Gold Bar Fire Department, and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office with its Search and Rescue Unit, assisted by the Sheriff’s helicopter.

While this is certainly a unique circumstance, the truth is that every day, across our state and our country, small aircraft and helicopters are used to address emergency, humanitarian, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, angel/mercy flights, agricultural and logging activities, news reporting, business and local commerce and various other important needs. At my own airport, Harvey Field, in Snohomish, the National Guard, Sheriff, Angel Flight, Air Lift NW air ambulance, agriculture aerial spray operators, and news helicopters regularly establish a base to carry out these types of operations. For example, during the spring and early summer months, agriculture spray planes routinely stage operations at Harvey Field to work the Snohomish River Valley farmland crops and when the Snohomish River floods, Harvey Field becomes a staging area for emergency helicopter operations aiding levy monitoring and emergency patrol personnel and the associated recovery efforts that save lives and property.

The same speed and versatility that make these aircraft a vital resource for public safety and humanitarian efforts also makes them an indispensable tool for business and local commerce. General aviation and local airports allow businesses to meet with new customers in multiple locations, allow sales personnel and managers to reach far-off plants and visit communities that are not served by commercial airlines. Especially in rural areas, this helps businesses look beyond the horizon and grow into new markets without leaving their hometown communities.

In fact, the business aviation industry is much more diverse than most people realize; 85 percent of businesses that own and operate aircraft are small to mid-sized businesses. Aviation plays a vital role in our state’s response to emergencies and natural disasters and many communities depend on it for the continued flow of commerce and tourists.

Washington state is home to 137 public-use airports, serving over 20,000 pilots and more than 7,500 general aviation aircraft. The general aviation industry is a significant economic engine; public-use airports support 248,500 jobs, $15.3 billion in wages, and $50.9 billion in total economic activity in this state. Across the country, the industry represents $150 billion in economic activity per year and supports 1.2 million jobs.

Gov. Gregoire has demonstrated great leadership by declaring June “General Aviation Appreciation Month” here in Washington state. By doing so, she has taken an important step in raising public awareness of the critical role general aviation and our local airports perform for the people of Washington state. From ensuring public safety, to creating business opportunities in communities throughout the state, general aviation is a vital asset that deserves the governor’s acknowledgement.

Kandace Harvey of Snohomish is the President of the Washington Airport Managers Association, the Manager of Harvey Field and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.