New NC Study Concludes Moore County Airport Boosts Local Economy
January 20th, 2020 – The Moore County Airport Authority announced today that an updated economic analysis conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) at North Carolina State University was released on January 8th. According to the study, the airport in 2017 contributed 305 local jobs and $17,300,000 in direct economic benefits such as goods purchased and services consumed. Airport customers and businesses paid $1,269,000 in local taxes. In total, the combined direct and indirect benefits of the airport’s operations added $71 million to the County’s economic pulse in 2017.
Mr. Ron Maness, the Airport Manager, presented the new data from the ITRE study to a consolidated planning meeting at the Airport with the Airport Authority, the Moore County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Moore County Chamber of Commerce and the economic development team at Partners in Progress. The goal of the meeting was to jointly collaborate on economic development. “These are big numbers, important numbers, bringing substantial benefits to the people of Moore County,” Mr. Maness concluded.
Thomas McPherson, Chairman of the Airport Authority, summarized the report for visitors after the meeting. “This report shows the growing, positive economic impact the Airport has on Moore County,” he said. “It is a great reminder that our local airport plays a fundamental and foundational role in the economy of the Sandhills.”
North Carolina Is an Aviation Hub
Today Moore County Airport offers a 6,500 foot runway and state-of-the-art instrument approaches and lighting. There are about 100 planes, 90 hangars, aircraft maintenance services, a flight school with more than 50 students, and a dozen aviation-related businesses. The airport handles about 6,000 take-offs and landings each year.
“Measuring the economic impact of the airport is challenging. While everybody sees planes as they fly overhead, most of the benefits our airport delivers are invisible,” said Mr. Maness. “When an air ambulance comes and goes, it’s a good thing but nobody notices. When a charter flight drops off a dozen golfers nobody cheers. When a young person becomes a commercial pilot and starts a great high-paying career, nobody writes a press release. When the owner of a plane pays local property taxes, it’s great but it doesn’t make headlines. But that’s what happens at the airport, every single day, and it’s great for our community.”
Pat Corso, a member of both the Airport Authority and Partners in Progress, explained the cost-benefit dynamics based on his own career in the resort business. He noted that most visitors to the Sandhills arrive on commercial air service at Raleigh and drive here by car. “But the Chairman of the Board arrives by private plane. His or her hours just are too valuable to waste in airport lounges,” Corso continued. “If there was no airport here, those meetings would move to Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach. This means the airport is directly responsible for filling thousands of our hotel rooms every year.”
McPherson agreed with Corso, adding “General aviation access to Moore County and Pinehurst is a critical factor in securing our position in the golfing world. The airport enables Pinehurst to be competitively positioned in the top tier of the global golf community.”
“The chances of getting commercial service back to Moore County are virtually zero,” Mr. Maness answered in response to a question. “Since 9-11, the economics of the commercial airlines have completely changed. The planes are getting bigger and harder to fill. There’s a severe pilot shortage. The cost of airport security has skyrocketed. Commercial service to a small town like ours is just not in the cards.” Mr. Maness is a retired commercial pilot and actively consults on operational issues with American Airlines.
Maness point out that the Airport has a critical role in the community even without the benefit of commercial service. Military contractor support, medical airlift, air freight for high-value cargo, and aerial surveys are among the many activities that generate economic impact above and beyond traditional business and personal general aviation travel. All of these services are a daily part of life at the Moore County Airport.
The ITRE Study
The study, conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) at the North Carolina State University, was the fourth iteration of the study. It was first performed in 2012. The State funded the report to guide future investment in state aviation infrastructure and as a tool for recruiting companies in the aerospace industry. Leading the study is well-respected Dr. Daniel Findley, the Program Manager for Economic Analysis and Policy Assessment and a Senior Research Associate at ITRE. Dr. Findley has more than 30 published, peer-reviewed technical papers on economics and transportation.
The study uses state-of-the-art analytics to develop a comprehensive economic model. Customer data and aeronautical activity is collected from all participating airports. ITRE also contacts every single company or organization named by the airports to learn the degree to which those companies depend on aeronautical services for their success. The study is very rigorous and unlike many economic studies it includes no estimates or approximations, which means the results underestimate the total economic impact.
Dr. Findley’s team discovered that, at the state level, the ten commercial airports and 62 smaller airports contribute more than $52 billion in economic energy, 307,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in state and local tax revenues. Among the smaller airports, Moore County Airport “punches over its weight” in terms of its economic impact on the community.
The report included fascinating nuggets about aviation. North Carolina boasts the nation’s second fastest-growing aerospace manufacturing sector. Aerospace giants Boeing, Cessna, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin and Spirit Aerospace all have bases in North Carolina. The amazing HondaJet — made by the same company which makes Honda automobiles — produces 50 elegant corporate jets each year in Greensboro. North Carolina also is at the forefront in the growth of drones, and students at Moore County high schools can graduate with drone pilot licenses.
Moore County Airport hosts several military subcontractors which support Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the U.S. It is quite common to find giant helicopters discretely buying fuel on the ramp or to observe unmarked Special Forces planes practicing approaches in Moore County’s uncrowded airspace. Moore County Airport is also the location for quiet and dignified transfer ceremonies, where the remains of soldiers and sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice are returned to their families.
Moore County Airport often has charter aircraft on the ramp. Ken Heinlein of Pinehurst operates one such very successful passenger charter service from Moore County. North Carolina also has 26 air freight companies moving 850,000 tons of time-sensitive cargo. For example, LabCorp, the world’s leading health care diagnostics company based in Burlington, uses a fleet of small planes to airlift 2.5 million specimens each week and their planes are seen at Moore County Airport.
Similarly, after Hurricane Florence a number of local pilots flew relief missions to flood-ravaged sections of the state where the roads had been closed. “It’s hard to quantify the importance of a medical specimen or a relief flight,” Mr. Maness said, “but to the affected people our airport really is a life-saver.”
Moore County Airport supports an large variety of aviation-related businesses. It offers maintenance services; it aids agriculture with mapping and crop-dusting services; and provides aviation services such as aerial photography, romantic sight-seeing rides, and supports the pilot training program at the Sandhills Community College.
Pilot training is particularly noteworthy because the country is facing a severe shortage of pilots. In the next ten years 26,000 U.S. airline pilots will be retiring, far more than are being trained. Combine those losses with the predicted doubling of air travel and the shortage becomes a crisis. Local pilot training programs create prosperity with secure, well-paying jobs for younger people. “The healthy, vigorous flight school at Moore County Airport is an important part of the puzzle,” Mr. McPherson added.
View the full report, including the breakdown of each individual airport’s contributions, at www.ncdot.gov/aviation.
Background: Aviation and Golf in North Carolina
Aviation and golf both have long and parallel histories in North Carolina. Bostonian James Tufts basically invented modern golf in America when he laid out the first course in Pinehurst in 1897/98. The soon-to-be famous Donald Ross, who served an apprenticeship with Old Tom Morris in St Andrews, arrived as the golf professional at Pinehurst in 1900.
Meanwhile, 250 miles to the east another revolution began when, on Dec. 17th 1903 the Wright Brothers made their historic flight on the Outer Banks. Today, general aviation supports about $4 billion in economic output in North Carolina, including an estimated 23,000 high-paying jobs.
Moore County Airport, which serves the globally recognized Pinehurst Resort, was built in 1929. It served as an Army training airfield during World War II. Numerous celebrities have used the airport, including Amelia Earhart. Peggy Kirk Bell, one of the pioneers of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, flew from the airport and was the first professional golfer of either gender to pilot a plane to tournaments.
For more details, contact the Moore County Airport at (910) 692-3212.