WILLIAMSTOWN - Local pilots agree naming January as General Aviation Appreciation Month by Gov. Joe Manchin could help draw more people into the aviation community.
"The fact that the proclamation draws importance to general aviation in the state of West Virginia is great," said Jim Bennon with the Mid-Ohio Valley Aviation Association.
On Jan. 7, Manchin, who is a pilot, showed his commitment to aviation by signing the proclamation, said pilot Tom Dempsey, who is also the Marietta fire chief.
Roger Thomas, Air Evac Lifeteam pilot, stands in front of one of the emergency rescue helicopters at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"General aviation is everything but commercial airlines and military," said Terry Moore, manager of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and a pilot.
This means pilots who work for Air Evac Lifeteam, which is located at the airport, are general aviators and not commercial, although they are flying for a business.
"I'm a former military pilot, but what I do is general aviation," said Roger Thomas, Air Evac pilot.
West Virginia is home to 34 airports with roughly 1,859 pilots with the majority of both being general and not commercial aviation.
The proclamation stated West Virginia's geography makes businesses and communities dependent on aviation aircraft and small aircraft for "access to medical treatment, mobility, economic opportunity, disaster relief and a wide range of critical resources."
"The MOV Airport is commercial, but we get a lot of support from the general aviation pilots and their business," Moore said.
In fact, two of the T-hangars at the airport were built by a previous incarnation of the MOVAA about 20 years ago, he continued.
"If it weren't for general aviation, the airport wouldn't have those two hangars and the space they provide," Moore said.
While interest in general aviation has waned over the years, in part because pilots are aging, the current hangar space at the airport is at capacity with close to 60 planes housed on site.
With the declaration by Manchin, there is hope for more interest and younger people wanting to learn to pilot.
"We do have instructors here and are giving flight lessons," said pilot and instructor Mike Knopp, who is also on the Wood County Airport Authority. "We are wanting young people to learn how to fly."
Moore said there has always been an interest in general aviation, as far back as the beginning of flying.
"The Wright brothers were general aviation pilots and so was Charles Lindbergh," Moore said. "Actor Harrison Ford is now the face of general aviation."
According to the governor's office, aerospace is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the state's economy, according to the proclamation, adding nearly 600 new jobs between 2000 and 2005 and contributing 3,200 jobs either directly or indirectly related to the industry.