A recent Iowa DOT study of commercial air service, reports the scheduled commercial airlines pump $1.3 billion into the state's economy and employ 14-thousand people.
But most Iowa travelers can not get to a destination without changing planes, and in many cases must still drive miles after landing. Add in the delays and indignities of security checks, it is little wonder, travelers, especially business travelers no longer see the skies as friendly.
It’s also why the existence of the thousands of airports servicing “general aviation” is becoming more alluring to business travel.
The state DOT is about to conduct a study to see how much economic activity is generated through these general aviation services. But growth is already seen in some pockets of the state.
Airplanes come and go from the Council Bluffs Airport on a regular basis. But for those in business class, their airplane closely resembles a taxi, stopping a few feet in front of them and lifting off as fast as the engines can fire up and get back in the air.
Bill McGinn: "It's an interesting phenomenon, time is money. As everything else gets expensive, the time is money factor becomes more expensive. --- A lot of our surrounding airports are seeing more growth because business and industry people want to get to as close to where they're going as possible. And they want to be able to get in and out easily."
That ease is why Council Bluffs Airport leaders say they've seen a near doubling of business in the last decade.
Bill McGinn: Chairman, Council Bluffs Authority: “There's a lot of examples in people's private lives that since people are getting more busy and time is so much more of a commodity now that its easy to justify general aviation.”
Bill McGinn is one of those who utilize general aviation as a business tool. As an attorney, he's now able to take clients outside of Council Bluffs as long as there's an airport nearby. He can get more legal work done if he flies to meetings, rather than spending the day on the road driving. McGinn uses the Council Bluffs airport as a home base. He's not alone.
Bill McGinn: "I would put it at phenomenal. On a scale of 1 to ten, I would make it an 11. Council Bluffs Airport is the right airport at the right place. And obviously with the way aviation is going there's a lot of people with the FAA and what we've seen is kind of a cooperative effort to see that general aviation is growing, growth is where it needs to grow where it can be most beneficial to both pilots, airplanes the general public safety factors, they study that stuff, Around here, the Council Bluffs Airport is a big part of that, and a big part of the focus of the growth in this area."
The Council Bluffs airport in the last decade has been in constant motion both in the air and on the ground.
The original runway was scraped away and rebuilt. The new 5,500 foot runway makes it easier and safer to land an average corporate jet. A new terminal building is under construction. Hangers are full of local planes. The Council Bluffs Airport has considered the last ten years a good period in its history, if not its best decade ever. Traffic at the airstrip has doubled in the last decade to almost 38-thousand landings and departures in the last year. Operators of the airport cite many things for the increase in traffic, including an increase to neighboring Omaha's Eppley Airfield.
Bill McGinn: “Eppley Airfield's seen a phenomenal growth in their passenger traffic and that is their primary focus over there, is in and outgoing passenger traffic, which means we need other places for general aviation traffic and general aviation pilots to come in and out of, there easier to come in and out of and a non-controlled airport such as Council Bluffs.”
For Council Bluffs, that location near Omaha is significant advantage.
Dan Smith Executive Director, Council Bluffs Airport: "Being able to have corporate jets fly in and out of here, we're a gateway to the community of Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County. I consider that we are an economic drive engine of the whole community and part of the infrastructure that's necessary to attract businesses to come here that want to come here with significant paying jobs."
Smith cites several businesses with operations outside the area that need quick access to their interests in town. Another area of growth is another new building on site that's for the University of Nebraska's flight maintenance school.
Dan Smith: “My thinking is if we're the source of the pilots and the mechanics, only good things can happen from there. Activity breeds other activity. And that's exactly what's happening here. People find out something new is happening, significant changes are taking place and they want to be a part of it.”