Opinion Extra

Donahoo, Dabney: Airport contributes to community

A recent column by Warren Bolton referred to the Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport as a "closed shop" operating for the benefit of a few private pilots ("Airline passengers funding wasteful airports," Oct. 15). The airport does indeed provide a base of operations for private and recreational pilots, but it is also responsible for so much more.

The airport serves significant business general aviation as well, including various industries that directly contribute to the health, welfare and safety of our community: military, education, law enforcement, medical, government and travel and tourism, to name a few.

These individuals and entities buy fuel, with a portion of this revenue going to Richland County. More than 100 aircraft pay hangar rent and aircraft property taxes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, significantly reducing the funding requirement from county coffers. And then there's the $14.8 million in annual economic impact to our community, as measured by a Wilbur Smith Associates study in 2006.

The Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport serves a very important mission as a "designated reliever airport" for the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration defines a reliever airport as one that hosts operations that would otherwise cause a significant impact on the air traffic of a nearby commercial service airport. There are only two airports in South Carolina with this designation.

The airport has become a centerpiece and source of pride for our community. Its conference room is often used by neighborhood organizations and can be reserved for meetings by any legitimate non-profit organization. There are picnic tables where families can sit and watch airplanes take off and land. The airport is also home to the S.C. Aviation Association's Hall of Fame, which honors those who have made significant contributions to aviation in the Palmetto State. The public is welcome at any time to come and enjoy this proud display paying tribute to those special S.C. aviators who have distinguished themselves, including astronauts Charles Bolden and Ron McNair.

There's no denying that the Jim Hamilton-L. B. Owens airport has received its fair share of grant money from the federal government to develop and maintain its infrastructure - $8.1 million since its inception. However, it is important to note these funds have been invested directly back into the local economy, and serve to leverage economic growth.

For example, the most recent taxiway paving project was performed using $1.14 million in federal stimulus funding. The plans for this project were designed and engineered by a Columbia-based engineering firm. The work was performed by a Columbia-based paving company. This is typical of each and every grant that the airport receives. Although the recent stimulus grant required no match from Richland County or the state; most federal grants require the county and the state to contribute only 2.5 percent each.

Our airport is part of a nationwide system of general aviation airports that contribute more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy and employ more than 1.2 million people.

We are very proud of the contributions made by Richland County's Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport, and welcome the public to come out and visit.

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