US

Small-town airports close as higher plane costs, falling interest lead to pilot decline

  • In this June 1, 2015 photo, Gene Martin, owner of Martin Field, center, helps instructor Scott Currie, left, and 12-year-old flight student Pierce Turner, right, push an Aeronca Chief aircraft from it's parking spot onto the runway, in South Sioux City, Neb. Martin recalls when teenagers would bike out to the airfield and pay for flight lessons with the money they earned from paper routes. Now, young people seem more interested in video games or driving cars, Martin said. The number of flight instructors at his field as fallen from 12 to 3, and they’re not especially busy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

    In this June 1, 2015 photo, Gene Martin, owner of Martin Field, center, helps instructor Scott Currie, left, and 12-year-old flight student Pierce Turner, right, push an Aeronca Chief aircraft from it's parking spot onto the runway, in South Sioux City, Neb. Martin recalls when teenagers would bike out to the airfield and pay for flight lessons with the money they earned from paper routes. Now, young people seem more interested in video games or driving cars, Martin said. The number of flight instructors at his field as fallen from 12 to 3, and they’re not especially busy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this June 1, 2015 photo, Gene Martin, owner of Martin Field, a small airfield in South Sioux City, Neb., prepares an aircraft for takeoff. Martin recalls when teenagers would bike out to the airfield and pay for flight lessons with the money they earned from paper routes. Now, he says, young people seem more interested in video games or driving cars.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

    In this June 1, 2015 photo, Gene Martin, owner of Martin Field, a small airfield in South Sioux City, Neb., prepares an aircraft for takeoff. Martin recalls when teenagers would bike out to the airfield and pay for flight lessons with the money they earned from paper routes. Now, he says, young people seem more interested in video games or driving cars.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this June 1, 2015 photo, a plane leaves Martin Field, a small airfield in South Sioux City, Neb. Many small towns have had airfields almost since the early barnstorming days, and expanded them after World War II when military pilots returned home. The number of pilots with private certificates peaked at 357,000 in 1980, but since then, that number has nose-dived to 188,000, and hundreds of local airfields have closed. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

    In this June 1, 2015 photo, a plane leaves Martin Field, a small airfield in South Sioux City, Neb. Many small towns have had airfields almost since the early barnstorming days, and expanded them after World War II when military pilots returned home. The number of pilots with private certificates peaked at 357,000 in 1980, but since then, that number has nose-dived to 188,000, and hundreds of local airfields have closed. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)  (The Associated Press)

The number of private pilots in the U.S. has been steadily falling and is a big factor in the closure of hundreds of airports.

Since peaking at 357,000 in 1980, the number of pilots with private certificates has plunged to 188,000.

That drop is a big reason hundreds of small, rural airports have closed.

In Onawa, Iowa, planes will stop flying into the airfield for the first time in 60 years. Instead, the runway will be used as a racing dragstrip.

Officials in Hillsboro, Illinois, sold off their airport to a company that is mining for coal.

Gene Martin, who owns a private airfield in South Sioux City, Nebraska, says business has slowed, but he's holding on despite offers for his land.

Martin says, "That's all I've ever done."