The airports support an estimated 471,000 jobs paying a total of $17.8 billion, according to a study the department commissioned last year. That’s more jobs than the University of Georgia’s calculations tied to imports and exports through the ports of Savannah and Brunswick.
Augusta Regional Airport employs 1,561 people with a $59 million payroll, ranking it No. 3 for commercial service airports behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Savannah-Hilton Head International airports, according to the report.
Daniel Field, a general aviation facility in Augusta, provides 127 jobs and has a $4.4 million payroll.
Though many of the planes at smaller, local airports are operated for pleasure, a number provide transportation for business executives.
Private planes landing at Daniel Field have aided west Augusta businesses, said former longtime manager Buster Boshears.
Medical flights also use the airport to reach hospitals.
“It’s quick access to downtown, to the medical complex around University (Hospital), MCG and Doctors Hospital,” Boshears said.
The Transportation Department cites a survey of Georgia companies in which proximity to an airport ranked among the top 10 factors in their decision on where to locate.
“Investing in Georgia’s airports has a high rate of return,” said Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden. “We strive to maximize every dollar we receive in this area to constantly improve our aviation facilities. This study shows the true economic impact our airports provide for citizens.”
Diane Johnston, the marketing director for Augusta Regional Airport, said an airport is important for attracting businesses to the city and supporting existing business with easy transportation for customers, employees and shipping needs.
“Certainly, in addition to the fact that all these jobs are attributed to the airport being in Augusta, for a lot of customers that look to relocate to a new market, one of the things that’s important to them is if we have an airport,” Johnston said.
Augusta Regional also provides access to Fort Gordon and supports an air ambulance, she said.
Georgia budgets $2 million yearly to airports, about one-tenth the amount spent by the 10 biggest-spending states, according to the department.
Its announcement comes as voters are considering a statewide referendum on boosting the sales tax
1 percent for transportation projects tailored to each of 12 districts. District leaders could include airport improvements in their list of proposed projects.
In Richmond County, the only aviation project considered is hangar doors at Daniel Field, costing $1 million.
The DOT’s news release included a reference to the vote.
“In districts where the referendum passes, the Department of Transportation will be responsible for project delivery. An independent study ranked Georgia’s DOT first in the country in on-budget project delivery and second in on-time delivery,” the release stated. “Project delivery is what Georgia DOT does. Referendum projects assigned to the department will be completed on time and on budget.”