Aviation Alliance Highlights Efforts for Future of Industry

 - June 10, 2021, 10:56 AM
Arlington Municipal Airport in Washington, which showcased its value to the community in making its facility available for Covid-19 vaccinations, also is striving to be in the center of an emerging technologies corridor. (Photo: Arlington Municipal Airport)

As emerging technologies and sustainability continue to capture the attention of the aviation industry and government leaders alike, the Alliance for Aviation Across America is hoping to raise awareness of the importance that such developments play within local communities and the need for collaboration across federal, state, and local leaders to lay the groundwork for these efforts.

The Alliance—founded in 2007 to help educate government leaders and the public of the integral role general aviation and airports play in local communities—is building on these efforts with the rollout today of a new microsite that focuses specifically on emerging technologies and sustainability. Also, the organization is hosting a panel discussion this afternoon with local leaders and organizations to discuss the benefits of general aviation investments in emerging technologies and sustainability, and the need for collaborative support.

“The general aviation industry has made impressive investments in sustainable fuel and technologies,” the organization stated. “These developments, along with advancements in new and emerging technologies, all represent important areas of growth at a critical time when recovery and mobility remain more important than ever.”

To showcase those efforts and grow its outreach, the Alliance developed the microsite in partnership with organizations such as the Main Street Project and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), among many others. The site provides key figures that can be used to educate decision-makers as the aviation community seeks backing for investments, including the fact that advanced air mobility is expected to generate $115 billion in economic output by 2035 supporting 280,000 jobs.

Further, the organization points out that the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) market is anticipated to grow from a $66 million market in 2020 to a $15.3 billion market by 2030 and reiterates that general aviation supports $247 billion in economic impact per year and 1.2 million American jobs.

The site leads to other web pages, including one on sustainability that highlights efforts underway and explains concepts such as book-and-claim and carbon offsets. Included is a map pointing to areas where SAF may be available. Another webpage details policy and legislative efforts in the areas of workforce development, sustainability, and advanced air mobility.

Plans call for building out the site further with pages that will detail initiatives within the individual states. The Alliance has already developed a full database and an interactive map that discusses the economic impact of general aviation of aviation within each state.

Noting the “great hit” that general aviation has taken throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Alliance executive director Selena Shilad said, “When we look toward the future, it is not only about recovery but it is also about growth. What many people don’t realize is that general aviation and business aviation are making significant investments in sustainability and emerging technologies. What many also don’t realize is how these investments are going to benefit local communities and how federal investments and local support are so critical at this time.”

Barbara Tolbert, mayor of Arlington, Washington, who is in the district of House aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington), emphasized the need of supporting future technologies and sustainability in her district.

Speaking to AIN, she called her local airport, Arlington Municipal, “a key part of the economic engine for the region” and stressed that it underscored its value not only during the pandemic but also the 2014 Oso mudslide that devastated part of the region.

Tolbert, who is a pilot, said in the aftermath of the mudslide city officials contemplated how to rebound, they looked to the airport and, in particular, zoning to not only preserve it but boost the economy. They decided to build an industrial region but “didn’t just want to build your grandfather’s industrial center.”

Rather, they wanted one that attracted “clean-tech” industries. And she said the city is already seeing the fruits of that effort with Eviation, developer of the nine-seat electric Alice aircraft, moving there as well as the area being in the final running for another company looking to produce a zero-emission electric hydrogen aircraft. “We’re making headway—sooner than I thought on that front,” she said.

Key to this is support from federal and state officials. “It’s absolutely, fundamentally important that Congress is behind this,” Tolbert said. “We won’t get there locally.” With the high costs of investment into such technologies, federal investment is critical, she said.

Tolbert also believes it is necessary to get the public on board. “I think with the general public, we will always be in an education mode.” But since these technologies focus on the climate and environment, “it is something everyone understands.”

But as local leaders educate, Tolbert, who is participating in Thursday’s panel, also stressed the importance that the focus is not only on investment but workforce development.

Kansas Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz echoed those sentiments, emphasizing “the importance of partnership at the federal, state, and local level to advance on the technology side and sustainability side.” Each partner plays an integral role, she told AIN. “We need to have a three-legged stool.”

Moving forward, Lorenz added, “technology is super important and it will help us solve a lot of problems, but it will only help if we adapt and use those technologies.” This will require working through a range of jurisdictional issues to help facilitate that adoption, she added.

At the federal level, such efforts could be boosted through legislation exploring the range of issues around the development and implementation of advanced technologies, particularly on the safety side, said Lorenz, who is also participating in Thursday’s panel.

At the same time, Lorenz added, “I thoroughly believe that the federal level has a big role to play in foundational research and development. Those sorts of investments pay dividends that you might not see in two seconds but in 20 and 30 and 50 years both in national defense and in commercial development.”

The technology side will be easier to manage than the adaptive side and is something that will take collaboration throughout the U.S., she said. Airspace doesn’t end at state boundaries, she said, adding a connected system will require a “ton of collaboration and cooperation and coordination in putting those collective pieces together. I believe that will be the challenge of the next decade. As we move through a transformational time, all those pieces of the safety aspect are key for our safety. We have to have proving grounds for that technology.”

Within the state, these efforts will require strong partnerships in areas such as workforce development and facilitating initiatives, such as the supersonic corridor that Kansas has established in concert with the FAA. Meanwhiles, local leaders can stress job creation as well as support a range of applications from package delivery to life-supporting flights.

“Our state role is to bring the right people to the table to identify with clarity and with safety data what is going to be the requirements to deliver air mobility,” added Bob Brock, aviation director for Kansas.

Moderated by Politico transportation report Sam Mintz, the Alliance panel also includes the participation of Bill Holen, commissioner for Arapahoe County in Colorado who is involved with the National Association of Counties; Michael Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce; and Niel Ritchie, senior advisor for Main Street Project.