Talk to airport managers of community airports around Brownwood, and the importance of the Aviation Division of the Texas Department of Transportation becomes apparent.

The Aviation Division handles federal and state grants for the state’s 276 general aviation airports, and also manages the airplane fleet for the state, according to David Fulton, director of TxDOT aviation.

“The Aviation Division can manage the entire project or oversee the project,” Fulton said. “A typical grant is for 90 percent of the project with 10 percent local participation. It’s a good deal for the airport.”

The process begins when funds are approved by TxDOT Commissioners. Projects funded include airport runway extensions or improvements, work on taxiways and aprons, and small general aviation terminals.

“The grants are not eligible for operating expenses,” Fulton said.

TxDOT administers the Routine Airport Maintenance Program (RAMP), which matches local dollars with grants up to $50,000 for basic improvements such as parking lots, fencing, and other airside and landside needs.

“This has been very successful,” Fulton said. “The funds can be used for preventative maintenance, aesthetic improvements, enhancing the utility of an airport, and even landscaping on public property.”

Of the state’s 254 counties, 31 of them have no general aviation airport, Fulton said. Aviation needs in those typically small population areas are most likely served by privately-owned airfields.

According to a 2011 study conducted by the University of North Texas for the department, general aviation in Texas promotes both regional economic development and community recreational opportunities. The system’s airports also generate economic activity through capital and operations expenditures, business activities of airport tenants, and spending by visitors using airport facilities.

In total, the study found that the state’s general aviation airport and general aviation activities at commercial airports create $14.6 billion in economic activity, with salaries, wages and benefits of $3.1 billion and 56,635 permanent jobs.

The division believes the presence of a high-quality network of publicly accessible airports supporting general aviation activities in Texas has never been more important to the state’s economy. Business and flight support activities at such airports generate billions of dollars in economic activity, create jobs, and improve business operating efficiencies that help Texas recruit and retain some of the nation’s best companies.

“These airports are important economically to Texas communities,” Fulton said.

The 2011 study for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division found that Texas General Aviation Airports provide more than 56,000 jobs, with $3.1 billion in payroll and $14.6 billion in total economic output.

When combined with Commercial Service Airports, aviation in Texas contributed to more than 771,000 jobs, $23.2 billion in payroll and $59.5 billion in total economic output.

Fulton came to TxDOT in June 1992 after serving with the Tennessee Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics for 16 years, including a decade as director of the State Aviation Agency.