Airports Soar Ahead

Volume 15, Number 1
First Quarter 2013

photo of an airport terminalAirports are widely recognized for the economic benefits they bring to the surrounding communities. Associate editor Nancy Condon explored some of those benefits in "Airports Soar Ahead," featured in the first-quarter issue of EconSouth.

Take the airport in Huntsville, Alabama, for example. The airport has grown significantly and now ranks 14th in the nation for the transport of international cargo, Condon noted. A 2008 study estimated that the airport was responsible for nearly 25,000 jobs and $942.8 million in payrolls.

On a national level, airports were tied to $1.2 trillion in economic output, equal to roughly 8 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a 2010 report Condon cited. In the Southeast, two states—Florida and Georgia—rank among the top five in terms of commercial airports with the biggest economic impact.

It makes sense that big cities would have big airports. Experts have studied these variables—airports and growth in the surrounding community—to better understand the relationship between the two. Research by economist Richard K. Green found that passenger activity is a strong indicator of growth. Other statistical studies have corroborated his findings, Condon said.

With Huntsville International Airport, it is difficult to say whether the airport has prompted growth in the surrounding counties or vice versa. Nevertheless, both have achieved impressive growth in recent decades.

For more on the economic value of airports, check out the full version of Condon's article in the first-quarter issue of EconSouth, available in print and online.