Kentucky is known for bourbon, bluegrass, barbecue, horses and college basketball. However, many may not realize it also is known for aviation.

Of the 98 high schools in the U.S. that teach aerospace and aviation skills, 25 are in our commonwealth. Our No. 1 export is aerospace products at $11.7 billion in 2017.

While landlocked, Kentucky is the only state that can have three international freight forwarders call Kentucky home — UPS, DHL and Amazon. Our general aviation airports are an important economic driver for our rural communities.

Here in Kentucky we have one of the best helicopter evacuation systems in the world, our vast aerial medical network gives us the ability to respond to nearly any accident in Ken­tucky within 10 minutes. This is crucial for a state as large and rural as ours.

Our network of general aviation airports plays a vital role in responding to accidents when they happen. In fact, a recent study commissioned by the Kentucky Department of Aviation found that general aviation airports serve a critical role during disaster relief.

Our local, public-use airports provide a location for the deployment of rescue operations and the evacuation of those in need.

Plans have been drawn up for all 53 general aviation airports in the event of a disaster and play a vital role in providing a place for air operations to land or takeoff and allow disaster relief workers to react to a crisis quickly and effectively.

The versatility of general aviation also makes it an important resource for businesses. There is no other form of direct, point-to-point transportation that matches the speed of general aviation. When businesses need to execute quickly, general aviation is there for them. This situation is particularly true for the Toyota plant in Georgetown, which uses just-in-time production to manufacture their vehicles.

The Toyota production system is a lean produce-as-needed system designed to reduce the amount of time a product sits before being sold. General aviation was there to support the plant with planes flying into the Georgetown Scott County Regional Airport and Blue Grass Airport to deliver necessary component parts and ensure the plant maintained its production schedule during the January 1994 blizzard.

Were it not for general aviation, it’s hard to say what would happen, but it certainly wouldn’t have been good.

Between the economic benefits and public services provided, it’s clear general aviation and local airports play an important role in growing business and saving lives across our commonwealth. This lifeline is an economic driver, allows farms to protect crops, survey land and increase food production.

Services general aviation provides are an important reminder that our support is vital to the prosperity of communities across the country.

Robert Riggs is the Kentucky Aviation Association’s legislative committee chairman, a member of the Kentucky Airport Zoning Commission and vice chairman of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky. He can be reached at pedler@verizon.net.

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