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As I travel around our beautiful state and region, I am often struck by how critical transportation and aviation are to connecting our businesses and communities to other regions, services and resources.

While we all know the importance of commercial aviation, general-aviation airports and smaller aircraft are a critical part of our infrastructure that shouldn’t be forgotten as our leaders debate investments in this important part of our economy.

This means investing in not only roads, bridges, airports and technology, but people and our future workforce. Marshall University is training the next generation of pilots, to help address the growth in demand. The university’s Division of Aviation offers two degree programs and is building the Bill Noe Flight School in honor of Bill Noe, who is a Marshall University alumni and an executive at NetJets.

Programs like these will help train our nation’s future fliers and prepare those pursuing careers as airframe and power plant mechanics, and many other segments of our aviation workforce.

These investments in our workforce are crucial as our nation faces a pilot shortage. According to a 2020 study by Boeing, over the next 20 years, the aviation industry needs to hire an additional 208,000 pilots and 192,000 technicians to meet demands across North America. The Promoting Service in Transportation Act would help bolster the aviation workforce by directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to raise awareness and promote diversity within our transportation sector.

Another important bill would establish the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation, which will help promote and support the future of aviation and ensure the United States remains a leader in the aerospace arena.

Supporting investments in infrastructure also is about investing in the future and exciting new developments related to aviation technology. For example, aviation and general-aviation companies are investing in sustainable aviation fuel and sustainable technology, as well as developments in advanced air mobility, which have the potential to revolutionize the way we navigate our landscape and sort jobs and economic growth for our communities.

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Priorities like the Sustainable Skies Act would help spur growth and incentivize the production, use and availability of sustainable aviation fuel and technologies.

There is plenty of reason to be excited about advanced air mobility technology, which can include electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. These aircraft can help people navigate communities without geographic restrictions, allow for easier access between rural and urban communities and reduce noise, congestion and environmental impact.

Moreover, these investments support an industry that represents over a million jobs and more than $240 billion in economic impact, including over 9,000 jobs here in West Virginia alone.

General aviation and our network of airports play an important role in supporting critical services. For example, the mountainous terrain that dominates our state can make access to certain areas treacherous, even during good conditions. In the event of bad weather or natural disasters, such as the aftermath of a mudslide or blizzard, communities across the state can find themselves completely isolated.

Organizations like HealthNet Aeromedical Services, which operates eight emergency response teams across our state, use helicopters to transport sick or injured people in remote areas. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, pilots have played a crucial role delivering critical PPE and other medical supplies to rural hospitals.

Businesses like Helicopter Powerline Services, which specialize in helicopter powerline construction, aerial sawing and right-of-way management, rely on helicopters to conduct operations. The list goes on and on and underscores the critical importance of this network as a lifeline to communities throughout the state and our nation.

It is for all these reasons and more that we must support and invest in our network of airports and future growth of the industry, so our businesses and communities can thrive and grow well into the future.

Steve Williams is the mayor of Huntington. He serves on the board of directors of the National League of Cities and is a board member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

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