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2011-12-14

By Scott W. Lang, Mayor, New Bedford

Over a century ago, aviation enthusiasts in Massachusetts formed our country's first aeronautical society (1895) and first aeronautical club (1902), encouraging individuals to experiment and study the science of flight.

Sometime later, our state was home of the first licensed aircraft manufacturer in the United States with the establishment of the Burgess and Curtis Co. based out of Marblehead in 1911. And these stories go on and on — from the first-built monoplanes for the U.S. government, to the first nonstop service to Europe — we should be proud that much of the history of aviation has roots here in the commonwealth.

With a major commercial airport that serves as a worldwide hub, and over 200 publicly and privately owned aviation facilities, our state remains a leader in terms of aviation. While most people immediately think of commercial aviation, the truth is that our local general aviation airports serve as a lifeline for communities throughout the state, allowing local businesses, manufacturers, farmers, medical and law enforcement organizations, and charities to reach residents quickly and efficiently when time is of the essence. These airports and the aircraft that rely upon them play a pivotal role in our communities, generating over $304 million annually in economic activity and supporting roughly 10,000 jobs throughout the state.

Here in New Bedford, we have a great airport that is evolving to meet the demands of aviation in the 21st century. The New Bedford Regional Municipal Airport is a tremendous asset for our city and region. It is an economic driver that generates over $26 million annually in revenue, and its related companies employ over 200 people. Bridgewater State University has founded a School of Aviation and has built one of the most modern aviation educational facilities in the United States. It has partnered with our area high schools and vocational high schools to provide aviation careers in service, technology and mechanical areas.

At the present time, the airport is involved in a major FAA safety project extending buffer areas to its 5,000-foot runway. In the future, New Bedford airport will improve the aprons and taxi areas as well as expand its terminal to provide TSA screening and a dedicated access road to the airport. In fact, in the coming decades, New Bedford Municipal Airport will be a major factor in building our region's aviation sector in transportation, freight, education and public safety resources.

In addition, these aircraft and airports help in ways that many do not realize — after our recent snow storms, when communities were without power and supplies, FEMA responded using general aviation aircraft and airports to ensure supplies reached our cities and towns quickly. Throughout the year, charitable groups such as Angel Flight Northeast utilize airports such as Westover Metropolitan, offering free flights to those in need of transportation to critical care treatment centers. In fact, Holyoke Medical Center relies on Westover Airport to transport patients and organs, allowing medical services to be provided to those in need quickly.

It is for all these reasons and more that it is fitting that Gov. Deval Patrick recently declared "General Aviation Appreciation Month," and recognized just how valuable general aviation is to the state of Massachusetts.

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