Op-Ed

Investing in airports enables Kentucky economy to soar

cbertram@herald-leader.com

When you fly out of one of Kentucky’s major airports, the need for increased investment may not be an obvious first thought.

However, perhaps over the last few years you’ve noticed taxiway improvements at Blue Grass Airport (LEX) or major terminal upgrades at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) and Louisville International Airport (SDF), but millions are still needed to continue keeping our airports competitive in the 21st century.

As air-passenger traffic increases across the country, and cargo operations continue to grow at CVG and SDF particularly, we are confronted with aging facilities. Our local communities cannot fully realize new economic opportunities without the infrastructure improvements needed to support both commercial air service and cargo-related activities.

Knowing these realities, we are enthusiastic that Sen. Mitch McConnell has helped produce the first transportation funding proposal that puts real action behind creating vibrant airports in our nation. His efforts to advance the U.S. Senate’s FY2018 transportation appropriations bill will create sustainable funding for airports in Kentucky to enhance our facilities and improve the passenger experience.

Nationwide, airports have more than $100 billion in improvements to make in the next five years. McConnell’s leadership will ensure we have the ability to generate more local revenue to provide for investments in runways, taxiways, terminals, gates and other projects.

At CVG, a consolidated rental car facility is needed to streamline passenger movements in and out of the airport; it will also improve air quality.

At LEX, this means funding to complete the final portion of a five-phase taxiway project that will enhance the safety and efficiency of the airport for the airlines, as well as general aviation operators.

At SDF, continued modernization of vital airfield elements is a priority, including the need to transform and reconstruct the taxiway network.

Such infrastructure investments lead directly to new jobs at our airports and have larger impacts on the economies beyond our gates. McConnell recognizes that our airports are primary economic engines for our communities, and indeed, for the entire state of Kentucky.

In Louisville, SDF and Bowman Field were shown in 2014 to support more than 69,900 jobs and generated in excess of $8.1 billion in total economic activity. At LEX, its last study points to about $370 million in economic output and nearly 3,500 jobs. Finally, CVG’s most recent impact study shows over $4.4 billion in economic output, as well as over 31,100 direct and indirect jobs.

As Kentuckians have seen over the last several years, when airports win, Kentucky residents and businesses win. We’ve seen many economic development successes tied directly to air operations, so you can only imagine what the return on additional investment will mean for future growth in our state.

With over $790 million in infrastructure needs in the next five years, work at Kentucky’s airports could realistically create more than 18,000 jobs. The traveling public in Kentucky and across the United States deserve shorter security lines, more airline competition, lower airfares and 21st century facilities.

We appreciate McConnell working to make it happen.

Karen Scott is interim executive director of Louisville International Airport; Candace McGraw is CEO of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; and Eric Frankl is executive director of Blue Grass Airport.

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