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Aviation Produces At Least $9 Billion Economic Benefit To N.C., DOT Study Says

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Airports across North Carolina generate at least $9 billion a year in business and provide nearly 70,000 jobs, the North Carolina Department of Transportation reported in a new study on Friday.

However, DOT aviation officials also say they are being very conservative with their numbers, given the lack of information it was able to gather from the businesses around the state's three largest airports - Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte Douglas and Piedmont Triad.

"We definitely were conservative on the impact the bigger airports have," said Dave Thomas, air service program manager at DOT who was the coordinator of the study. "Raleigh-Durham International is doing its own study, and we know that is going to be a much more comprehensive one."

For example, the new DOT study found that Charlotte Douglas International in Charlotte created an economic impact of $3.6 billion. The last time the DOT did an aviation study in 1996 it reported Charlotte Douglas had an impact of $3.856 billion.

In its own recent economic impact study, Charlotte Douglas reported an $8.4 billion impact, Thomas said.

In 1996, the DOT reported RDU's economic impact as being $2.238 billion. In the new study it reports RDU's impact as $1.927 billion.

"I believe the true number is substantially higher than that," Thomas said of the 2006 figure.

Jill Denning, marketing communications manager for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, said that the authority is conducting its own study. "It's still several weeks away," she said.

Financial restraints limited the scope of the DOT study, Thomas explained. "We know there's more data out there," he added in reference to the larger airports. "If someone didn't respond to the survey, we didn't try to guess what the numbers were.

"Still," he added, "no matter how fast or slow you say it, $9.6 billion is a lot of value to the state."

Where Thomas said DOT is most comfortable with its information is the data compiled from surveys at smaller airports such as Fayetteville Regional, which has commercial airline service, and the 63 general aviation airports scattered in other communities across the state.

"That's where the big growth is coming that we were able to identify," Thomas said.

The economic impact of Fayetteville's airport increased to $148 million in the 2006 survey from $86 million in 1996.

Some smaller operations showed much more growth. In the new survey, the Johnston County Airport's economic impact climbed to $42.8 million from $19 million a decade ago.

The impact of Kinston (422 percent) and Jacksonville (74 percent) also jumped substantially, according to DOT figures cited by Thomas.

"That's good news for the economic development of those communities," Thomas said.

The state's 11 commercial airports served more than 35 million passengers, provided 55,000 jobs, were used to export 800 million pounds of airfreight and generated $7.6 billion in annual revenue, the new DOT study said.

The 63 general aviation airports generated some 15,000 jobs and nearly $1.85 million in annual revenue.

Several factors, such as the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks and the resulting increase in airport security, have helped drive growth at smaller airports, Thomas explained. Among those are the greater convenience of flying directly to a specific location on smaller, safer aircraft and more people sharing ownership of aircraft, he said.

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