Air Transportation in Virginia

there are General Aviation airports in Southwestern Virginia south and west of Roanoke, but no airport in that region of Virginia offers scheduled commercial passenger service (indicated by a red airplane symbol)
there are General Aviation airports in Southwestern Virginia south and west of Roanoke, but no airport in that region of Virginia offers scheduled commercial passenger service (indicated byairplane symbol)
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, 2013 Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update

Most Virginia airports are for general aviation, allowing private planes to land and offering ground services such as refueling. Such airports typically lack air traffic control towers, and pilots must pay close attention to other aircraft in the area when taking off or landing.

A general aviation airport in a rural area may not see a lot of traffic, but can be essential to the local economy. Even a small airport offers a fast connection for executives to reach urban centers, and communities seeking to recruit factories and other businesses highlight that connectivity. Funding to operate general aviation airports, while small by the standards of major commercial airports such as Washington Dulles, can be a significant challenge for local governments.

A mile of roadway gets you a mile down the road. A mile of runway gets you anywhere in the world.
Source: Stafford Regional Airport

Mountain Empire Airport is a general aviation airport built in 1958 as a joint project by the counties of Wythe and Smyth, plus the towns of Wytheville, Rural Retreat and Marion. Rural Retreat withdrew from the partnership, and in 2014 Wythe County supervisors questioned the costs vs. benefits of spending about $60,000/year to stay in the Smyth/Wythe Airport Commission. Advocates for maintaining the public airport cited potential economic development advantages, and also safety benefits of providing a landing site for air ambulance services.1

Mountain Empire Airport provides quick access for corporate and financial executives to reach factories and operations in southwestern Virginia
Mountain Empire Airport provides quick access for corporate and financial executives to reach factories and operations in southwestern Virginia
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Nine airports in Virginia offer scheduled commercial passenger service:

in 2010, there were over 1,000 takeoffs every day of a commercial airliner carrying passengers from nine Virginia airports - and 75% were from two airports in Northern Virginia
in 2010, there were over 1,000 takeoffs every day of a commercial airliner carrying passengers from nine Virginia airports - and 75% were from two airports in Northern Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Competitive Analysis of Virginia's Aviation Industry (from Table 2.1)

in 2013, over 80% of passengers using a Virginia airport got on board in Northern Virginia at Reagan National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD)
in 2013, over 80% of passengers using a Virginia airport got on board in Northern Virginia at Reagan National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

Only two of Virginia's airports with scheduled passenger service - Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) and Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) - are west of the Blue Ridge.

Five of the nine airports with scheduled passenger service - Dulles International Airport (IAD), Reagan National Airport (DCA), Richmond International Airport (RIC), Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), and Norfolk International Airport (ORF) - are in Virginia's crescent-shaped population center, stretching from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads.

only two airports in Virginia offering scheduled commercial passenger service, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), are located west of the Blue Ridge
only two airports in Virginia offering scheduled commercial passenger service, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), are located west of the Blue Ridge
Source: National Atlas

Airports that offer scheduled commercial passenger service are clearly beneficial to economic development in a community. Such facilities draw customers from an area, a "hinterland," in the same way that port cities such as Alexandria established economic connections in the 1800's with rural areas that needed access to a seaport.

Virginia airports draw customers from other states, and Virginia residents can choose to drive to airports in other states. All nine of Virginia's airports offering scheduled passenger service are not-for-profit, publicly-owned facilities, but they operate like businesses and compete with each other.

nearly 80% of Virginians live within a 45-minute drive of an airport offering scheduled passenger service
nearly 80% of Virginians live within a 45-minute drive of an airport offering scheduled passenger service
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016) (Figure 4-2)

The hinterland includes the primary catchment area from which most passengers come. Competition is more intense in the secondary catchment area, further from the airport terminal and closer to other airports.

The boundaries of catchment areas will vary for an airport, based upon the cost of different flights and the destinations. The catchment area for low-cost, short-distance flights extends far from the airport, to the point where the customers are located roughly halfway between two airports offering similar service. Customers are likely to choose "nearest airport" and be less willing to drive extra distances to a competing airport, when the potential savings in time/money are small.2

The catchment area for more-expensive flights is concentrated closer to the airport. If the inconvenience of driving the extra distance is offset by the savings in time or money, an airport can extend its cachment area.

For example, Northern Virginia residents who live close to Dulles (IAD) or Reagan National (DCA), but can save significant amounts of time/money by catching a Southwest flight from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), may choose to drive the extra distance. Maryland residents may drive past BWI to catch an international flight from Dulles (IAD) that is more-direct and does not require a layover in an intermediate airport.

in the secondary catchment area, customers can choose to use a North Carolina airport unless service from Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH) is more convenient or less expensive
in the secondary catchment area, customers can choose to use a North Carolina airport unless service from Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH) is more convenient or less expensive
Source: Lynchburg Regional Airport Master Plan Update (2010)

The number of passengers boarding an airplane (enplanements) or getting off (deplanements) at an airport reflects the population of the area, competition from nearby airports, and of course the desire of residents in that region to fly somewhere else. A large population base generates more traffic, so airports in urban areas attract more carriers. Competition results in flights scheduled more frequently and to more locations, and also lower costs.

except for Staunton and Newport News-Williamsburg, average fares for flights from Virginia airports dropped more than national average between 1995-2015 (adjusted for constant 2015 dollars)
except for Staunton and Newport News-Williamsburg, average fares for flights from Virginia airports dropped more than national average between 1995-2015 (adjusted for constant 2015 dollars)
Source: US Department of Transportation – Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Average Domestic Airline Itinerary Fares By Origin City

With the hub-and-spoke scheduling pattern of airlines, fights from smaller airports feed passengers into larger airports that offer non-stop flights to more destinations. Richmond and Charlottesville residents can not catch a direct flight to the West Coast, or to Europe, from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) or Richmond International Airport (RIC).

About 60% of scheduled departures from Virginia's airports are operated by regional jet equipment. Airlines pay lower wages to pilots flying smaller planes, such as those produced by Bombardier and Embraer, rather than larger aircraft with more than 50 seats. Many of those small jets connected to a hub outside Virginia, rather than feed passengers starting at a Virginia airport into the two major hubs in Northern Virgina:3

Within Virginia, two Large Hub airports, Washington Dulles and Reagan National, both offer connecting itineraries. However, most connecting itineraries to or from Virginia’s Small Hub and Non-Hub airports do not pass through Washington Dulles or Reagan National.

For domestic connecting journeys from Virginia's Small Hub and Non-Hub airports, just 7.3 percent of passengers connected through Washington Dulles or Reagan National in 2005. By 2014, this number had increased slightly to 7.6 percent. Instead, Atlanta and Charlotte are the two most popular connecting hubs for domestic passengers; together, these hubs control over 56 percent of the domestic connecting traffic from Virginia’s seven Small Hub and Non-Hub airports.

Areas with smaller populations generate fewer customers, and thus lower profits. An airline trypically will charge higher fares at smaller airports, so the limited number of passengers will cover the fixed costs to provide service and will generate a rate of return on the airline's investment comparable to flying to airports with many customers.

In response to high fares and a limited selection of destinations at small airports, travelers will drive several hours to reach a different airport with greater competition and better service. Airports near the border of Virginia in Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina compete with the nine Virginia airports that offer scheduled commercial passenger service.

For example, The headaches of parking and passing through security is such a deterrent that some customers from Central Virginia drive directly to Northern Virginia airports, eliminating the "hop" from the smaller airport. That may require more time in traffic on Route 29 or I-95, but can eliminate the potential of a missed connection as well as reduce overall time and costs for a long trip.

Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) draws Northern Virginians across the Potomac River, in part due to the many low-cost flights scheduled by Southwest Airlines. The airport provides driving directions for customers coming from as far south as Richmond, making clear that Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) views Central Virginia as part of its catchment area.

Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) provides driving directions for passengers who might come from Richmond, though the traffic on I-95 might deter customers
Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) provides driving directions for passengers who might come from Richmond, though the traffic on I-95 might deter customers
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Google Maps

For many living in Southside Virginia, North Carolina airports in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte offered the most-convenient and lowest-cost commercial airline service to a wide range of destinations.

Potential airline passengers drive to out-of-state airports from the local "capture area" surrounding Virginia's nine airports with scheduled commercial service. Until Virginia's airports can offer cheaper flights and better schedules, "leakage" will continue to airports in Baltimore (MD), Lewisburg (WV), Blountville (TN), Charlotte (NC), Greensboro (NC), and Raleigh (NC).

cheaper flights and better schedules generate leakage to airports in Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee
cheaper flights and better schedules generate "leakage" to airports in Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The best option for some Southwestern Virginia residents is the Tri-Cities Airport (TRI). It is located in Blountville, Tennessee, near the "tri-cities" of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City.

Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee  serves Southwestern Virginia
Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee (which dropped "Regional" from its name in 2016) serves Southwestern Virginia
Source: ArcGIS Online

Tri-Cities Airport in Tennessee adopted a new logo in 2016 In 2016, Allegiant, American, and Delta Connection offered scheduled service from the Tennessee airport to Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Bristol, Virginia has one voting member on the 12-person board that manages the airport; the other members represent jurisdictions in Tennessee.

The airport dropped "Regional" from its name in 2016, part of a branding exercise to emphasize the "TRI" instead. Bristol sits on the border but is one of the three urbanized area in the Tri-Cities region, so its role was not diminished by the re-branding.4

pilots traveling to Southwestern Virginia rely upon General Aviation airports west of Roanoke
pilots traveling to Southwestern Virginia rely upon General Aviation airports west of Roanoke
VFR MAP

Most commercial passenger "enplanements" (passengers getting on board a plane to start a flight) occur at the two airports in Northern Virginia. Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) generated over 20 million boardings in 2015. Virginia's other seven with scheduled passenger service generated only 4 million boardings, combined.6

in 2015, 84% of commercial passengers using Virginia airports boarded (enplaned) at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Northern Virginia
in 2015, 84% of commercial passengers using Virginia airports boarded (enplaned) at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Northern Virginia
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

The seven smallest airports in Virginia with scheduled passenger service used smaller airplanes than the two largest airports. As a result, they had 23% of the aircraft landings/take-offs even though those seven airports carried only 16% of the passengers in 2015.5

77% of scheduled passenger plane landings/take-offs in Virginia occur at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
77% of scheduled passenger plane landings/take-offs in Virginia occur at Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Source: Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Executive Summary (p.4)

The number of travelers using Virginia airports declined between 2007-2013, as the airlines focused on servicing major hubs and reduced flights from smaller airports. Scheduled domestic flights leaving from a Virginia airport dropped 12% during those years, a result of airlines exercising "capacity discipline" after the 2008 economic recession and limiting expansion during the recovery. Newport News/Williamsburg lost almost half of its traffic, when low-cost airlines cancelled service and chose to fly instead out of Richmond or Norfolk.

Airlines have been quick to cancel flights that do not generate sufficient profit. Officials at Norfolk International Airport (ORF) convinced Southwest to offer three Norfolk-Atlanta flights, but they were dropped from the schedule in 2014 as the airline consolidated with AirTran and focused on using Boeing 737s.7

between 2007-13 - a time of major economic recession - passengers using Virginia airports declined by 5%
between 2007-13 - a time of major economic recession - passengers using Virginia airports declined by 5%
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

Two Virginia airports have lost commercial air service since airlines were deregulated in 1978. Scheduled service to Hot Springs (Ingalls Field) stopped in 1993. The last Virginia city to lose commercial air service was Danville, in 1995. Ingalls Field and Danville Regional Airport remain operational, but just as general aviation airports now.8

Hot Springs (Ingalls Field) lost scheduled commercial passenger service in 1993, and Danville (Danville Regional Airport) lost service in 1995
Hot Springs (Ingalls Field) lost scheduled commercial passenger service in 1993, and Danville (Danville Regional Airport) lost service in 1995
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, 2016 Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update - Executive Summary (p.3)

Danville lacked the population base to generate enough business to maintain flights to Charlotte and Winston-Salem, as airlines shifted to a spoke-and-hub system. There were only 100,000 residents in the city and surrounding Pittsylvania County in 2015, and the nearest competing airport in Greensboro, North Carolina was just 40 miles away.

In 2016, the Greyhound bus company also stopped servicing Danville due to low ridership. Customers were advised to catch the bus in Greensboro.9

Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) opened in 1955, and in 1984 the city and county transferred control to an independent authority. In 2016 CHO had service from three major carriers (American, Delta, and United). In addition, smaller carriers such as SkyWest and ExpressJet code-shared flights to hubs for KLM, Virginia Attlantic, and Qatar Airways.

Charlottesville Albemarle Airport has one runway
Charlottesville Albemarle Airport has one runway
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Airport Diagram - Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO)

Non-stop flights to Chicago started in 2011. Passenger travel to that destination grew by over 25% in five years, and Chicago became the #1 destination from Charlottesville. American Airlines also added daily flights to New York-LaGuardia (LGA), and overall airport enplanements between 2006-2015 increased 37%. The runway was extended 800' to accommodate new 50-passenger jets and the terminal was expanded in 2014.10

the terminal at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) was expanded in 2014 to accommodate a 37% increase in the number of passengers since 2006
the terminal at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) was expanded in 2014 to accommodate a 37% increase in the number of passengers since 2006
Source: Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport Authority, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report Year Ended June 20, 2015 (p.77)

Transportation patterns change, however. United's flights from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) to Dulles International Airport (IAD) could disappear, if United continues to focus more on international flights from Dulles. One analyst predicted in 2015 that United would drop its CHO-IAD flight, since it feeds few customers into United's trips across the Atlantic Ocean.11

in 2016, major carriers American, Delta, and United offered direct service from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) to Atlanta (ATL), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), New York-LaGuardia (LGA), Philadelphia (PHL), and Washington (IAD)
in 2016, major carriers American, Delta, and United offered direct service from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) to Atlanta (ATL), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), New York-LaGuardia (LGA), Philadelphia (PHL), and Washington (IAD)
Source: Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, Routes and Stops and Airlines

In 2015 the Bureau of Census estimated there were 1.3 million Virginians living west of the Blue Ridge, and the large urban center was at Roanoke. Over 250,000 people lived in the counties of Augusta and Rockingham, plus the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro, but demand for commercial service at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) was too low to retain the business of a commercial carrier.

Scheduled commercial air service continues at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) only because it is subsidized through the Federal government's Essential Air Service program.12

Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) requires a Federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program to retain scheduled commercial service
Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) requires a Federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program to retain scheduled commercial service
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Virginia Department of Aviation has classified 66 public use airports based on their economic and transportation roles. In addition to the 9 Commercial Service airports with airlines carrying passengers, there are 8 Reliever airports, 19 General Aviation Regional airports, 16 General Aviation Community airports, and 14 Local Service airports. There are 65 hospital heliports as well.

An additional 11 airports support military operations. The largest is Naval Air Station Norfolk (Chambers Field), Air Cargo Transport Hub for the US Navy. Marine Corps Base Quantico hosts the helicopter fleet for the White House, and Fort Pickett supports Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) research and development.13

The state agency calculated in 2016 that 77.5% of the Virginia population was within a 45-minute drive of a Virginia airport offering scheduled passenger flights, and another 1.1% were near an equivalent out-of state airport. It noted:14

Based on individual needs and circumstances, passengers will drive up to 120 minutes to reach a departure airport. When drive times to all Commercial Service airports in Virginia and neighboring states are increased to 120 minutes, almost 100 percent of Virginia’s residents are within the service area of one or more Commercial Service airports.

airports with scheduled passenger service are predicted to see different increases in the number of takeoffs and landings (operations) by 2037
airports with scheduled passenger service are predicted to see different increases in the number of takeoffs and landings (operations) by 2037
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016) (Table 3-14)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a different airport classification system for 3,332 airports in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), which qualifies them for Federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airport improvements. The Federal Aviation Administration listed 47 Virginia airports in the 2017-21 report.

47 Virginia airports are listed in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)
47 Virginia airports are listed in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS)
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, 2017-21 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) Report

Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA) are the only two in Virginia classified by the Federal Aviation Administration in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems as "Primary, Large-Hub" airports. Those two airports exceed the threshold of at least 1% of total passenger boardings within the United States.

Norfolk International Airport (ORF) and Richmond International Airport (RIC) meet the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) criteria to be classified as "Primary, Small-Hub" airports. They have at least 0.05%, but less than 0.25%, of the total passenger boardings within the United States.

Four other Virginia airports with scheduled passenger service are categorized as "Primary, Non-Hub" facilities. Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO), Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH), Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA), and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF) have more than 10,000 passenger boardings each year but less than 0.05% of total passenger boardings within the United States.

The least-used airport with scheduled passenger service in Virginia, Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), is classified as "Nonprimary, Nonhub." Airports in that category offer commercial service, and have at least 2,500 and no more than than 10,000 passenger boardings each year.15

The Federal Aviation Administration's "2017-21 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) Report" identifies the 8 Virginia airports carrying the most passengers as National because they provide communities with access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the United States.16

the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a national role in the national aviation system
the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a "national" role in the national aviation system
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, List of NPIAS Airports with 5-Year Forecast Activity and Development Cost (Appendix A)

An additional 13 airports, including Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), were classified as Regional. They supports regional economies by connecting communities to statewide and interstate markets..

the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 13 Virginia airports as having a regional role in the national aviation system
the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 13 Virginia airports as having a "regional" role in the national aviation system
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, List of NPIAS Airports with 5-Year Forecast Activity and Development Cost (Appendix A)

16 airports were categorized as Local, with their role as providing access to primarily intrastate and some interstate markets.

the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 13 Virginia airports as having a local role in the national aviation system
the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 16 Virginia airports as having a "local" role in the national aviation system
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, List of NPIAS Airports with 5-Year Forecast Activity and Development Cost (Appendix A)

8 airports were listed as Basic, because they supported general aviation activities (e.g., emergency services, charter or critical passenger service, cargo operations, flight training and personal flying.

the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a local role in the national aviation system
the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a "basic" role in the national aviation system
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, List of NPIAS Airports with 5-Year Forecast Activity and Development Cost (Appendix A)

Two others, Brookneal/Campbell County and Emporia-Greensville Regional, were Unclassified due to their limited activity.

the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a local role in the national aviation system
the Federal Aviation Administration categorized 8 Virginia airports as having a "basic" role in the national aviation system
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, List of NPIAS Airports with 5-Year Forecast Activity and Development Cost (Appendix A)

46 of the 47 Virginia airports listed in the "2017-21 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) Report" are owned by public agencies. Some, such as the Manassas Airport, were originally built by private investors in 1932. The Town of Manassas purchased it in 1945, and relocated the airport to its current site in 1964.

the original airport for Manassas, developed by private investors, is now the Manaport Shopping Center (red X) across the street from Manassas Mall
the original airport for Manassas, developed by private investors, is now the Manaport Shopping Center (red X) across the street from Manassas Mall
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

All other Virginia airports listed in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems have been acquired and converted into public facilities, with one exception.

The Hampton Roads Executive Airport remains in private ownership. It was started after World War II by private investors who expected to make a profit from former servicemen using the GI Bill of Rights to pay for flying lessons.

In 2000, new investors purchased the facilty. With private, Federal, and state funding, they expanded the acreage, paved a new runway and upgraded the remaining infrastructure to the point that it now serves as a Reliever airport for Norfolk International. The private airport is eligible for Federal Airport Improvement Program funding because of its designation as a Reliever airport.17

State and Federal funding for airports is used to expand capacity, to improve safety, and to reduce noise and other environmental impacts. Terminal expansions are typically funded by Passenger Facility Charges, fees added to each ticket. Airports with more passengers can generate more funding and expand/upgrade terminals, even if they fail to obtain Federal Airport Improvement Program grants.

the Hampton Roads Executive Airport is the only privately-owned airport listed on the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and thus eligible for Federal funding
the Hampton Roads Executive Airport is the only privately-owned airport listed on the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and thus eligible for Federal funding
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Federal Aviation Administration identifies 461 airports in Virginia, including 414 that are not listed in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and therefore not eligible for Airport Improvement Program funding. 210 of those airports have paved runways. Four sites have "water" identified for the runway, including Lockerman at Smith Mountain Lake.18

Smith Mountain Lake serves as an airport for seaplanes
Smith Mountain Lake serves as an airport for seaplanes
Source: ESRI, VFR MAP

Cargo is delivered by planes at all Virginia airports. Small planes can deliver business papers to even the Brookneal/Campbell County and Emporia-Greensville Regional Unclassified airports, but four in Virginia receive the majority of air freight.19

four Virginia airports receive the greatest amount of air freight
four Virginia airports receive the greatest amount of air freight
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports

The Virginia Department of Aviation has defined a Business Class airport, part of its efforts to ensure service for executives using general aviation business jets and to enhance economic development within the state.

The Federal Aviation Administration has no such Business Class designation. In Virginia, a Business Class airport has three characteristics:20

  1. a runway that is 5,500 feet long or longer
  2. a precision approach that is supported by vertical guidance
  3. on-site weather reporting equipment

While over 70% of Virginia residents live within a 30-minute drive of a Business Class airport, there are a geographic gaps. The Appalachian Plateau, Southside, and the Northern Neck are underserved compared to other parts of Virginia.

Southwestern Virginia lacks easy access to a Business Class airport
Southwestern Virginia lacks easy access to a Business Class airport
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Current Access to Business Class Airports (Figure 4-6)

The Virginia Department of Aviation has recommended upgrading 10 existing airports, building three new ones in the Northern Neck/Franklin County-Rocky Mount/Lexington-Rockbridge County areas, and building a new Breaks Regional Airport to replace Grundy Municipal Airport. The state agency argues that the costs would be justified by the benefits from increased business activity:21

Given the role of business class airports to serve and contribute to economic growth, the status quo alternative would not be viable for a state focused on improving its economic environment and the infrastructure that supports business growth.

Virginia could increase the number of Business Class airports by upgrading existing General Aviation airports, constructing three new ones, and replacing Grundy Municipal Airport with Breaks Regional Airport
Virginia could increase the number of Business Class airports by upgrading existing General Aviation airports, constructing three new ones, and replacing Grundy Municipal Airport with Breaks Regional Airport
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Future Access to Business Class Airports (Figure 4-12)

Virginia plans to upgrade airports to service more turbine-powered jets, as they replace piston-driven aircraft in the General Aviation fleet (LSA=Light Sport Aircraft)
Virginia plans to upgrade airports to service more turbine-powered jets, as they replace piston-driven aircraft in the General Aviation fleet (LSA=Light Sport Aircraft)
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Aerospace Forecast (2016–2036) (p.23)

Access to some airspace is limited. The Federal Aviation Administration has designated Military Operations Areas and restricted zones around military bases such as Naval Air Station Oceana and Fort Pickett.

Military Operations Areas limit flights around military bases in Virginia
Military Operations Areas limit flights around military bases in Virginia
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Visual Flight Rules (VFR) chart - Washington

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in which American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon, the Federal Aviation Administration established the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA, often called "Sifra"). Within the SFRA, a circle with a 30-mile radius, is a 15-mile radius Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ, often called "Freeze").

The FAA designated the Special Flight Rules Area as National Defense Airspace. The Federal government announces to pilots through various channels that it may use deadly force against aircraft that do not follow special procedures, including requirements for special flight plans, use of communication frequencies, and limits on aircraft speed.

Pilots are required to complete special training on flight operations before going into the Special Flight Rules Area. The intent is to provide adequate warning time for military aircraft to identify potential threats and intercept, if necessary.22

in Northern Virginia, pilots must pay special attention to the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) within it
in Northern Virginia, pilots must pay special attention to the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) within it
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Visual Flight Rules (VFR) chart - Washington

in Northern Virginia, pilots use designated gates to enter or exit the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)
in Northern Virginia, pilots use designated "gates" to enter or exit the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, Special Flight. Rules Area (SFRA) Course Notes

Airport Competition: Richmond vs. Newport News/Williamsburg vs. Norfolk

Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH)

Northern Virginia Airports: Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Developing Dulles Through Improved Road and Rail Access

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA)

Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport

17 airports in Virginia had a runway length of 5,500 feet or greater in 2016
17 airports in Virginia had a runway length of 5,500 feet or greater in 2016
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Current Access to Airports with a Runway Length of 5,500 feet or Greater (Figure 4-4)

Links

38 airports in Virginia had a precision approach supported by vertical guidance in 2016, making them attractive sites for executives flying in business-class airplanes
38 airports in Virginia had a precision approach supported by vertical guidance in 2016, making them attractive sites for executives flying in business-class airplanes
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016), Current Access to Airports with Precision Approach and LPV Guidance (Figure 4-4)

References

1. "Airport supporters address Wythe board," Wythe News, August 15, 2014, http://www.swvatoday.com/news/smyth_county/article_afa4ec36-24ba-11e4-b38a-0017a43b2370.html (last checked August 15, 2014)
2. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, "Transport Terminals and Hinterlands," The Geography of Transport Systems, https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch4en/conc4en/ch4c2en.html; "Measuring the Size of an Airport's Catchment Area," Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 25 (November 2012), pp.27–34, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966692312001706 (last checked December 21, 2016)
3. "Virginia Commercial Air Service Strategic Review," Virginia Department of Aviation, December 2015, pp.4-5, http://doav.virginia.gov/Downloads/Studies/Strategic%20Review%202015/DOAV%20Strategic%20Review%20Final%20December%202015%20Reduced3.pdf (last checked December 25, 2016)
4. "Airport Authority," Tri-Cities Airport, http://www.triflight.com/about-tri/airport-commission/; "Airline Info," Tri-Cities Airport, http://www.triflight.com/airlines/ (last checked June 20, 2016)
5. "Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports," Federal Aviation Administration, http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/ (last checked December 21, 2016)
6. "Executive Summary," Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update, 2016, p.4, http://www.doav.virginia.gov/Downloads/Studies/VATSP%20Update%202016/600%20DOAVAW%2020160406%20VATSP%20Update%20-%20Executive%20Summary_Web_acsbl.pdf (last checked December 21, 2016)
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9. "Why No Commercial Flights To DAN (Danville, VA)?," Airliners.net blog, May 3, 2011, http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/5133709/; "'Very low ridership' forces Greyhound out of Danville," Danville Register & Bee, April 19, 2016, http://www.godanriver.com/news/danville/very-low-ridership-forces-greyhound-out-of-danville/article_14711280-066d-11e6-9351-6756b621b664.html; "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015," American Fact Finder, Bureau of Census, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2015_PEPANNRES&src=pt (last checked June 20, 2016)
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11. "United Celebrates 30 Years of Dulles Hub, But What Is Its Future?," Airways News, December 1, 2015, http://airwaysnews.com/blog/2016/05/11/united-celebrates-30-years-of-dulles-hub-but-what-is-its-future/ (last checked June 19, 2016)
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17. "History - Manassas Regional Airport," City of Manassas, http://www.manassascity.org/140/History; "Airport Past and Future," Hampton Roads Executive Airport, http://www.flypvg.com/airportpastandfuture.php; "Overview: What is AIP?," Federal Aviation Administration, https://www.faa.gov/airports/aip/overview/ (last checked December 23, 2016)
18. "Airport Runways Data," Federal Aviation Administration, (last checked December 24, 2016)
19. "Qualifying Cargo Airports, Rank Order, and Percent Change from 2014," Federal Aviation Administration, https://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/cy15-cargo-airports.xlsx (last checked December 23, 2016)
20. "Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016)," Virginia Department of Aviation, p.262, http://www.doav.virginia.gov/VATSP_update_2016.htm (last checked December 23, 2016)
21. "Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update (2016)," Virginia Department of Aviation, p.282, http://www.doav.virginia.gov/VATSP_update_2016.htm (last checked December 23, 2016)
22. "DC Special Flight Rules Area," Federal Aviation Administration, https://www.faasafety.gov/gslac/ALC/CourseLanding.aspx?cID=405 (last checked December 25, 2016)

in 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration predicted future air travel would be steady despite past fluctuations due to changes in oil prices, international conflict, and economic recession/recovery
in 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration predicted future air travel would be steady despite past fluctuations due to changes in oil prices, international conflict, and economic recession/recovery
Source: Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Aerospace Forecast (2016–2036)) (p.47)


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